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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida • Page 253
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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida • Page 253

West Palm Beach, Florida
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WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2002 Htiff VOUR NEIGHBOR: Mark Luhtala, 34 THE PALM BEACH POST i 1 1 Growing up in flight pattern keeps Gardens man near planes tS y. By LIZ BEST Special to Neighborhood Post Mark Luhtala may not have inherited his family's green genes, but he must have found a certain allure in the airplanes constantly flying over the greenhouse his parents owned just north of Chicago's O'Hare Airport Luhtala, who now lives in Palm Beach Gardens, grew up to be a true aviator and a jack-of-all-trades when it comes to airplanes. He's an airplane mechanic, a pilot and now an award-winning airplane restorer. His company, Luhtech Incorporated Aviation Specialists, is housed in half of a hangar at the airport in Lantana. It doesn't really look like much at first, but a lot of magic happens in Luhtala's side of hangar 504. He is currently giving a mechanical makeover to a 1974 Piper Chieftan. The owner bought the plane in Fort Lauderdale, and plans to use it to fly cargo in and out of the Alaskan bush. The seats inside are in tatters, both propellers are off, the engines are exposed and the exterior is in dire need of a paint job. But by January 2003, the dilapidated Piper should be good as new, says Luhtala, who went into business for himself a little more than a year ago. Luhtala stops short of calling himself a grease monkey, but as a kid he and his brother were constantly taking things apart and putting them back together. He says that his dad encouraged their mechanical curiosity. "Dad would show us a little bit and leave then he'd come back and give us some pointers and leave again. That's the best way to leam." Luhtala said. His fascination with mechanics led to an interest in bikes, go-carts, motorcycles and eventually mo-tocross racing. When he graduated from high school. Luhtala knew that he did not want to work in the family greenhouse, so he looked to the skies for the key to his future. "None of my family was in aviation, but we always had airplanes flying over." Luhtala went to Gateway Tech- BIU WGRAMStaff Ptiotopaplw Mark Luhtala, owner of Luhtech Incorporated Aviation Specialists, stands beside a Piper Dakota (left) and Piper Chieftan that he's preparing for a pilot in Alaska. Restoration work on airplanes requires finesse, he says. nical College in Kenosha, to study to be an airplane mechanic. He then entered the professional pilot program at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, 111. He earned his associate's degree as a pilot, then went on to get a bachelor's degree in aviation management Luhtala has managed airports in Michigan, Indiana, Georgia and worked in jet maintenance in Orlando before moving to South Florida. His first job here was working as a mechanic at Signature Flight Support in West Palm Beach. His restoration work has evolved over the years, and he says there's a lot more to restoring an airplane than simply repairing it "It takes finesse it's not like just changing a component You take a lot of pride in it and it's more fulfilling," said Luhtala, who's wife Holly works for Homes by Kennedy in Palm Beach Gardens. The highlight of his career so far was when a plane he restored won the Judges Choice award for the Best Foreign Trainer at the Air-venture 50th Anniversary Air Show sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association in Oshkosh, Wis. "I wasn't really going for the award, but it's very prestigious." Someday Luhtala, who is an avid fisherman and diver, would like to run charter flights to the Baha mas. He plans to name it Island Hoppers and would like to see his charter business grow into a resort that provides diving and fishing trips. "You never know how things will go. As opportunities come up, you have to take advantage of them I love being my own boss." What Is your favorite book? "Everything I read is technical. I don't really care to read novels." What event In history do you wish you had witnessed? The first flight of the Wright Brothers." What's the best advice you've ever received? Tve always worked a lot and my parents taught me that you can do whatever you want if you" put the time and effort into it i i

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