Norway's first airman
By Hans Olav Løkken
Translation by Rob Mulder
Published in; Flynytt. 6/2004
For most Norwegian Hans Dons is the first Norwegian who flew an aircraft. But that is not correct. Hans Dons was the first Norwegian to fly in Norway, but three years earlier a "trønder" (a man from the province of Trøndelag) with most likelihood not only the first Norwegian to fly a motorized aircraft, but even built it himself.
One day in July 2004 I stand with Svein Asphaug and Erling Hellandsjø and look towards Røstøya in Hemne. The first is nephew of the main person in this history. The other is local historian. The story has been written to shine a light on this part of the history.
I meet today's skipper Astrid Asphaug at Stokkekaia on Jellandsjø in the village of Hemne. She is a daughter of Svein Ashpaug. She takes me to Røstøya Island, where the main person of this story was born. Her father is not well and can hardly walk. Erling Hellandsjø joins me as a guide. Erling Hellandsjø tells in his way his story about the first ariman of Norway.
Ole Augustinussen Røstø was born in August 25, 1881, at Bjørkneset in Hemne. His parents were Augustinus Olsen Belsvik (1853-1934) and Anne Kristoffersdatter Røstø (1855-1942). They married in Trondheim in 1877. Their son Ole would be third child in a row of nine children. In 1888 the families bought a piece of land at Bjørkneset and built a house on it. Once Ole had grown up he moved to his grandparents Kristoffer (1811-1903) and Elisabeth (1820-1915) on island Røstøya. The island was governed by his grand uncle Hans J. WStrøm (1825-1906). Ole had heard of people immigrating to the USA. Ole took the last name of his grandparents and was now called Røstø.
Once he had to go school, he came to Svanem on the mainland and stayed at strangers again. After school he left for Trondheim, where he started to work in the workshop of Johan Lefstad (LefstadSportforretning). Here he mainly worked with bicycles. Ole even tried as a cyclist. He was so fanatic that he even won a big bag with coffee. In the end he had the same background as the Wright brothers and another Norwegian John Bochkon. All started with bicycles.
Around the turn of the century many from his area immigrated to Ameriica. From his area some 30 persons left for America. This was nearly the whole population. The young and even a little adventurous Ole Røstø was 19 years when he emigtrated to the USA. The same did his brother and two sisters (Eilert Kristian, Agnes and Elisabeth) and two of their uncles with their family. Upon arrival in America Ole changed his name or was given a wrong name by the US immigration service. He was now called Oliver Andre Rosto. He settled in Minnesota. New challenges awaited him. He worked in the car industry and studied during the evenings. Already by 1909 he built his own primitive aircraft, Duluth No. 1 -- called after his hometown in Minnesota. American sources mention this was already in 1908. The aircraft had a 35 hp engine. Since there was no airfield in Minnesota so he had to use a frozen lake to take off. When Ole made the first flight with his homebuilt aircraft in 1909 it was only six years since the Wright brothers had managed to take off. The Norwegians first flight took twenty minutes and he reached a height of 100 feet, flying at a speed of 40 mph. The young Norse-American Ole Røstø had later air certificate No. 131. After a while he stopped working on aviation mainly out of economic reasons.
Norwegian air history
Several Norwegians tried during the first 10-15 hears of the 20th century as aviation p;ioneers, but most ended in failure or accident. Some imported equipment, others constructed aircraft themselves. Names that can be mentioned are Wilhelm Henie and engineer Lilloe. The first to fly an aircraft in Norway was Baron Carl Cederström (1867-1918). That was in October 1910. Hans Dons was as mentioned before the first Norwegian to fly in Norway , on June 1, 1912. The first Norwegian with a flying permit was possibly Christian Lie. He got his flying permit in Germany in 1912. The first Norwegian issued flying permit was issued on June 11, 1914 to Roald Amundsen (1872-1928). The Norse-American Ole Røstø, alias Oliver Andre Rosto (1881-1972) was the first of all of them?
When the First World War started in 1914, the air industry had made some great progress. Aircraft could be used for reconnaissance above enemy lines. In 1916 O A Rosto traveled to Russia on behalf of a Canadian air factory to teact the Russians to fly the aircraft the Canadians had send to Russia. When the Russian revolution started in 1917, Oliver A. Rosto was arrested, but was released and fled from Russia via Finland.
When the USA entered the war on April 6, 1917, Rosto went to France. He flew missions with a flying boat looking for German U-boats in the English Channel and along the French coast. He survived the war without any injuries.
Visit to Norway in 1920
After the war the successful Norse-American wanted to visit his parents in the old country. He drove to Kristiania (Oslo) and drove from there to Hellandsjøn. This car trip in September 1920 and went without any major problems. Roads were not contructed for car traffic. When O A Rosto came to Stølan-Dalem in Hemne one Sunday afternoon, people stood along the road watching his Packard car. It was the first car seen in this area. He drove all the way to his homestead. Everybody came out of bed (sick or not) to have a look at the car. On the way back to Kristiania (Oslo) he was joined by the Norwegian car dealer Bjarne Wist (1894-1989) from Trondheim. Wist later bought a damaged military plane and got it repaired at Steinkjer. The first flight of the aircraft ended on the sea, where the aircraft sank. Both were rescued. In 1932 Bjarne Wist started up his motorcycle and car dealer in Trondheim.
Career and recognitions
His military career ended with a rank of Major, but it was in civil aviation he would have his greatest achievements. From 1922 to 1953 he was connected to the Civil Aeronautics Administration. In the period 1930-50 he was a member of the USAF military reserve commission.
From 1946 to 1953, when Rosto was 72 years old, he was with the American Foreign Service as Air Expert and stationed at London. He was consultant for the committee for international air services in Europe. While stationed in London, he was constantly under way in Europe. He made several trips to Norway and to his homestead. In 1954 he ended his service in London and was awarded the American Order of Merit for his work for civil aviation. He also received the decoration "The Civil Aeronautics Administration Medal for Dstinguished Service to International Aviation". He was handed over this medal at the Metropolitan Airport in Oakland. The reason for this decoration was "As international representative for the CAA in Europe from 1946 to 1954 you encouraged aviation and international goodwill by implementing programs in connection with the security of the United States of America, and by participating in the transport flying abroad, you encourage the technical development of aviation of the USA. Your help made it possible for many countries to start up civil aviation and save them from many years of development" (shortened version).
After Oliver A. Rosto retired from the Foreign Service in London, he worked for Transocean Airlines in Oakland, California. Although he should have been retired, he was given a personal compensation by President Truman. He made 4,500 flying hours as a pilot. Rosto was honorable member of the Norse-American Club in San Francisco and held good contact with his friends in Norwegian aviation; Rüser-Larsen, Bernt Balchen and Ludvig G Braathen.
Rosto had a child from his marriage with Mary Garret who was of German-French origin. He had a step daughter from an earlier marriage with Evelyn Cramer. According to Ragnild Skagseth (Born Waagan), who is Rosto's cousin, there is no contact with this step daughter.
This was the story of a successful emigrant. According to Einar Hellandsjø; "...He was among the foremost aviation pioneers and the first Norwegian to build an aircraft and fly it. I cannot see a statue in Hemne dedicated to Ole A Røstø, not on the island Magerøya, Røstøya, Svanem or Kyrkseterøa!"
Andre Rosto died in Seattle in April 1972, 90 years old, his ashes were spread by two of his best friends Lars Lind and Glenn Plymate from an aircraft above the Pacific Ocean.