An Eden Prairie nonprofit dedicated to keeping alive the stories and artifacts of U.S. military aircraft is without its showcase museum and searching for a permanent home at Flying Cloud Airport.
Wings of the North (WOTN) may be best known for its annual Air Expo, when restored vintage airplanes fly in and out of Flying Cloud Airport. It has also built a large collection of wartime art, uniforms, and aircraft and has also borrowed from other collections across the country.
Almost all of that is currently in storage, as WOTN in August lost its lease of five years at Club Jet Charter, a business on the airport’s south side that needed the space formerly occupied by WOTN. A tax-exempt, nonprofit organization, WOTN still has a small hangar at Flying Cloud where it can restore planes but not much else.
Bob Jasperson, volunteer director of the museum, said most of WOTN’s activities will continue as usual, including the Air Expo on July 23 and 24 of this year. But its board of directors is hoping to buy or build a new home at Flying Cloud that includes museum space.
Jasperson said the museum has never been a moneymaker but could be financially self-sufficient in space that could also accommodate major community events, an option that wasn’t available to WOTN at Club Jet. In a meeting a couple of weeks ago, the board did consider whether a museum would be integral to WOTN going forward. “All of us said ‘Yeah,’” Jasperson, also a board member, said.
Flying Cloud Airport, operated by the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), does have land available for a commercial building, and WOTN believes about 12,000 square feet would be ideal. About 70 percent of that would be hangar space for a dozen or so vintage aircraft and the remainder for display galleries, library, archives, storage, and service areas. Another option would be to purchase an existing building at Flying Cloud.
Either way, the organization would likely need to organize a capital campaign to raise the necessary dollars and forego its museum operation until the money is raised and a new home is found.
“To build or to buy would require a big bag of money. The problem is, we don’t know what we don’t know,” said Jasperson, who added that the organization is seeking advice from a professional fundraiser.
Museums of the type operated by WOTN aren’t common, according to Jasperson, who said the only comparable attraction in the Twin Cities metro area is the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing, a museum located at Fleming Field in South St. Paul that is dedicated to preserving military aircraft.
WOTN has had a presence at Flying Cloud Airport since 1998, after the Planes of Fame Museum formerly located there was moved by its owner to California. There might be other small airports in the Twin Cities that would have room for WOTN, Jasperson said, “but we don’t have a desire to move from Flying Cloud Airport.”
Most of its volunteers live in the area, including Jasperson and his wife Judy, the museum curator, in Eden Prairie.
Meanwhile, said Jasperson, “the show goes on.” In addition to planning the Air Expo in July, the club is planning several pancake breakfast fundraisers and a fall raffle with a small plane as the top prize.
More information about Wings of the North is on its website at www.wotn.org.
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation, a nonprofit organization.