From the first contemplation of creating the Duluth Aviation Institute, the vision was to impart and cultivate an understanding of aviation by fostering inclusiveness. Through reflection and research, the founder of the Institute, Sandra Ettestad, recognized an inattentiveness to contribute in a more significant way the gifts we had received through the aviation experience, and the knowledge we have to share of our aviation history and its science.

The research revealed abandoned knowledge of our local citizen’s contribution to our nation’s aviation achievements. Most significant of those achievements are:

In 1913, Oliver Rosto, Duluth’s first aircraft designer and pilot, built and flew his Rosto Monoplane named Duluth No. 1. He went on to work for the U. S. Civil Aeronautics Administration developing international air transportation safety and inspection. In 1952, Rosto was decorated with "The Civil Aeronautics Administration Medal for Distinguished Service to International Aviation". In 1954, he was awarded the "American Order of Merit" for his contributions to civil aviation. In 2009, he was inducted into the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.

In 1913, Julius Barnes wanted to learn how to fly and was curious about the recent invention of the aircraft. As a grain trader heavily involved in shipping, he knew transportation was a significant part of commerce. He purchased an airship from the Benoist Aircraft Company and initiated a city-wide celebration to showcase the airship. The Lark O’ the Lake Carnivals featured The Lark of Duluth throughout the summer. The Lark of Duluth, still owned by Barnes, became the world’s first airliner and flew the inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line.

In 1913, Robert Gilruth was born in Nashwauk and moved to Duluth when he was just nine. He went to school at the Duluth Normal School, East Junior High, Central High and Junior College. Gilruth continued his education at the University of Minnesota and received his masters in aerospace engineering. He was offered a job as a junior engineer at NACA, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and predecessor of NASA. His career path climbed and in 1958, he became the first director of the manned space flight program in Houston, Texas. He led the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and Space Shuttle program and is recognized as the Father of Human Space Flight, the Godfather to the Astronauts.

With a new understanding of our aviation legacy and in the spirit of service to our community, a new direction was proposed to individuals who value public responsibility, intellectual rigor, and community building.

On February 26, 2008, the 95th anniversary of Oliver Rosto’s first flight in Duluth No. 1, nine trustees gathered together dedicated to preserving our aviation history, to inspiring others to achieve admirable goals, and to exploring innovative educational venues. The founding trustees are Sandra Ettestad, William Irving, Jack Arnold, Thomas Betts, Mark Myles, Ina Myles, Julius Salinas, Kermit Emberg and Mark Marino. Since 2008, Don Monaco, Kate Dougherty, Mike Gardonio, and John Eagleton have joined the board.

As an organization of disciplined individuals, we defined our vision and mission, developed our strategic plan, created partnerships with area organizations, and began to introduce ourselves to the community. With each step, we placed a foundation stone of principles upon which to build our organization. With these principles, we have defined our future.

Our vision is a community inspired and enriched by the art and science of aviation.

Our mission is to preserve our community's deep aviation history,
and to educate our community with this history and knowledge of aviation and aerospace.

With education at the heart of the Duluth Aviation Institute, we shall:

  • supply a context in which to trace the continuity of the human experience with aviation;

  • encourage lifelong learning to pursue an understanding of history, science, the natural world, artistic expression and humankind;

  • provide meeting grounds where enriching experiences are offered both through human interaction and interaction with the aviation environment;

  • provide leadership in our community to raise awareness of the value of committing resources toward collaborative efforts in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.