Charles D. Hagen

1930 ~ 2023

Obit Photo Chuck Hagen ALPA 002

     Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Hagen, age 92, died Saturday January 14, 2023, in Denver Colorado. Chuck had struggled with Alzheimer’s Disease. Chuck was born in Minneapolis, MN to parents Blanche and Edwin Hagen. He was an only child. Chuck’s father worked on the Alaskan Highway Project but fell though the ice and died during a visit back to Siren, WI.

   Chuck attended Siren High School in where he was a good student, musician and played football in high school. Two divergent interests in Chuck’s life were playing the piano and flying. As a student he hitch-hiked to piano lessons because every cent of spare cash went for flying lessons at the grass strip airport in Siren. Chuck played the piano his entire life and always kept a photo of his piano teacher on the piano. When he refused to practice the teacher would shake her head and look at him asking, “What’s going to become of you?” He kept the picture on the piano to remind himself of that moment and it kept him humble.

   Chuck studied music at Superior State University, but after a few nights watching musicians in a nearby jazz club, he decided that aviation was the better career path. Northwest Airlines hired Chuck on June 28, 1950 as an aircraft groomer, and once again, whatever income he had to spare went for flying lessons. Once Chuck had acquired 220 hours of flight time, he started making the right connections by saying “Yes Sir” a lot and was rehired by NWA as a pilot. His official pilot date of hire was April 03, 1952.

   By the early 1950s NWA had a unique role in the post-war restoration of Japan Air Lines (JAL). Select NWA pilots and aircraft were reassigned to JAL to restart the post-war airline. Chuck’s first post-training assignment was to JAL.

   A disruptive fact: Chuck was of prime age and health for the Korean War military draft. Rather than submit to the inevitable, Chuck enlisted in the Navy as a Naval Aviation Cadet. NWA him for military service and flight training at NAS Pensacola, FL. His primary trainer aircraft was the North American T-28. In the advanced phase of flight training, he underwent multi-engine training at NAS Hutchinson, KS in the Beechcraft SNB-5. At the time of his pilot training graduation Chuck opted for a 2/Lt. commission in the Marine Corps. Thereafter he was assigned to duty with VMR-253 at Itami AFB, Japan and later MCAS Iwakuni, Japan. While assigned to VMR-253 Chuck flew the R4Q (C-119) and the R5C-1 (C-46). In 1957 he was released from active duty and returned to NWA at Minneapolis.

Obit Photo Chuck Hagen Marine 002

   Returning to line flying at NWA was a much-heralded event for Chuck. He initially flew as NWA copilot on the DC-6 and DC-7, while remaining active with the USMC Reserve at NAS Twin Cities flying the R4Q. His transition to jets at NWA came as second officer (engineer) on the Boeing 720/320. He gradually upgraded to copilot and captain on the Boeing 720/320s. The McDonald Douglas DC-10 that followed as was a favorite. Chuck concluded his NWA career as captain on the Boeing 747 classic. He accumulated much of his total flight time in the 747.  

   Chuck was dedicated to the pilot group as evidenced by his service to the Air Line Pilots Assn. (ALPA). His years of union work culminated in his role as ALPA Council One Master Executive Committee Chairman. This was during an era of especially challenging labor/management struggles. Chuck’s service is profoundly appreciated and widely acclaimed.

Obit Photo Chuck Hagen MEC 002

  Chuck married Geraldine Carrigan/Hagen in 1967 and divorced in 1980. There were two children – Erika and Karla. Erika continued the aviation tradition and after spending ten years as a pilot in business aviation, became a flight engineer and eventually captain on the Boeing 727-200.

   Chuck was to spend the next 40 years closely bonded with NWA flight attendant, Cheryl Gyldenvand, who became his companion and care giver in his later life.

   Chuck kept his hand in flying after his 1990 retirement from NWA. He owned a Widgeon seaplane, a Cessna 180, Beechcraft BE33 Debonair and Globe Swift – note one at a time. He also owned a small resort in Park Rapids, MN (on Potato Lake) the North Beach Vacation Club and the Shipwreck restaurant. Upon retirement he moved to Park Rapids (way up north) full-time and lived there until just a few months before his death.

Obit Photo Chuck Hagen Family2

   Daughter Erika writes: “There was no separation between work and life. My dad was a pilot to the core. He used checklists for everything and used the lessons learned in the cockpit to apply to any lesson needed in the real world. No matter what the example, he would use an aviation story to reinforce his point. He was an only child because his dad died very young so Northwest Airlines became his family. It’s where he was the happiest, even during the dark days of strikes and furloughs.

During his last few months, after dementia was taking hold, all I had to do was to start talking about flying and he’d perk up and remember in detail, enough stories to keep us laughing for hours. It was stories about the people, the distinct characters of aviation who I never met but feel like I’ve known my entire life. I know my dad would want me to turn around and honor you for being a part of his life and this glorious industry. Thank you for being a part of his memories that will continue to be passed on. ~ Erika Armstrong”

   Chuck Hagen is survived by his partner Cheryl Gyldenvand; daughters Erika Armstrong and Karla Carnahan; and grandchildren Caitlyn, Sarah and Crissie Carnahan, and Skyelar and Hayley Armstrong.  

(- Erika Armstrong & Bill Day)