ALEXANDRIA, Minn. - When Kreg Anderson was growing near Lincoln Elementary School, the Alexandria Municipal Airport was basically in his backyard.

Hearing and seeing airplanes is what he said he believes fueled his passion for aviation. When he was bored, Anderson, a 2013 Alexandria Jefferson High School graduate, said he would ride his bike, no matter the weather, to the airport just to hang out.

At 15, he began taking flying lessons and the day after he turned 16, not only got his driver's license, but flew his first solo flight the same day .

Soon after that, he officially started working at the airport in a role he referred to as "the fill-in guy." There wasn't really a position open at the time, but he said that didn't matter as he would work whenever someone wanted a day off.

Eventually, a position opened up and Anderson said he slipped right in.

"The rest is history," he said.

At an Alexandria City Council meeting last month, Anderson was officially appointed manager of the city-owned airport, replacing Todd Roth, who'd been in the role since October 2007. Roth resigned to accept a position with the Federal Aviation Administration as a safety inspector.

"I anticipated I would become the manager someday," Anderson said. "But at the age of 23, I didn't see it coming. Although I am definitely all for it."

After being named manager, Anderson said he did some research and from what he could find, he could be the youngest airport manager in the whole country.

"Unless someone tells me any different," Anderson chuckled, "that's what I am going with."

Anderson is also the chief flight instructor and the flight school manager, and is a charter pilot.

Becoming a pilot

In the summer of 2009, Anderson said he began his flying lessons with Don Clobes, a flight instructor at the Alexandria airport at the time.

"He took me under his wing and helped in any way he could," said Anderson, adding that Clobes is his No. 1 role model and mentor in the aviation world. By the time Clobes retired from aviation, he was an international pilot flying 747's, which Anderson said was "pretty cool."

On the morning of April 27, the day after he turned 16, Anderson got his driver's license and in that afternoon, he got to take his first solo flight.

After graduating high school in 2013, Anderson went to the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks. Because he preferred work to school, Anderson said he pushed it a little and finished school in three and a half years, graduating in December 2016. He majored in aviation management and received a bachelor of business administration degree.

A natural

Clobes, who is on the airport commission that recommended the city hire Anderson, remembers him as a boy of 12 or 13, the son of Tom and Angie Anderson, hanging on the airport fence watching the planes.

"He was an excellent student and of course turned into an excellent pilot," Clobes said. "When the position opened up, he was in a natural position to fill it."

Clobes said Anderson's age was not an issue for the three-person commission.

"I don't think any of the commissioners had any reservations," Clobes said. "He is mature beyond his years."

A restaurant at the airport?

Anderson said he wants to make Alexandria a destination place for recreational pilots.

Most smaller airports, like Alexandria's, offer courtesy cars to pilots who fly in for a day or two, to use so they can tour a city. Anderson would also like to add bicycles.

"My pipe dream, though, is to have a restaurant at the airport," Anderson said. "It would be a cool thing for pilots to be able to fly in and taxi down the runway to a restaurant."

Anderson said there are a couple of smaller airports in the state with restaurants, including one in Brainerd and in St. Paul.

"I really want to make Alexandria the go-to place for recreational pilots," Anderson said. "I want us to be known as the place to fly to."

Time spent in the air

At age 23, Anderson said his total flight time so far is about 2,300 hours. In 2017 alone, he spent about 1,000 hours in the air - that's roughly 41 days, he said.

"A typical person my age is just breaking 1,000 hours," he said. "I did that many hours last year."

In an average day, Anderson works with two to three students and can spend anywhere from two to six hours in the air.

When he has free time, Anderson will take take day trips to the Twin Cities, Grand Forks, Brainerd or anywhere else he feels like going. He's been to Chicago and Kansas City and even flown to Florida and California.

"I love to visit my friends and have a couch in just about every state I can hang out on if I want to," he said, adding that he definitely prefers flying to driving.

And, as of a couple of weeks ago, Anderson is the proud owner of his own airplane - a 1959 Bellanca 14-19-3 Cruisemaster, made here in Alexandria. In a couple weeks, he will take a trip to Washington, D.C., with a stop in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to visit the Wright Brothers National Museum.

When asked about favorite destinations, Anderson said that without a doubt it would be Oshkosh, Wisconsin, home of the country's largest annual air show.

"It's my favorite because you can fully immerse yourself in aviation as it is one of the busiest airports in the world that weekend," Anderson said as his eyes lit up and his smile reached ear to ear. "It is so much fun."

But he quickly added, "There are gems all over the place."

Jeff Beach contributed to this report.