A Saturday morning breakfast of flapjacks drenched with maple syrup while seated beneath a full-size replica of the Spirit of St. Louis attracted aviation buffs from around the Twin Cities to a hangar at Flying Cloud Airport.
Wings of the North (WOTN) runs four pancake breakfasts a year: one in the spring, one in the fall and two in midsummer. The July 22 and 23 breakfasts are part of AirExpo 2023. Billed as Minnesota’s premier aviation event, more than 30 vintage and modern aircraft and aviation heroes are expected to set down in Eden Prairie.
Volunteer-driven, nonprofit Wings of the North restores veteran military propeller planes that date back to the early 1940s. Its vintage planes and aviation artifacts had been publicly displayed in a rented hangar that had been adapted for the Wings of the North Museum. But the owner needed the hangar for its own operations. The WOTN collection was moved to its two aircraft restoration hangars on Pioneer Trail in August 2021.
Wings of the North is raising funds to build a new museum/hangar complex for a Flying Cloud Airport encore. The pancake breakfasts enable it to periodically show off its array of air-worthy planes and restoration projects and tell its story.
Read Mark Weber’s Wings of the North story here.
Mike Kagley of Plymouth greeted pancake breakfast diners to WOTN’s second restoration hangar. He coordinates the volunteers working on a BT-15, a World War II military trainer.
With side and undercarriage panels removed, visitors gazed at the veteran craft’s wires, tubing, fuel tank and skeletal frame. Kagley answered questions. “This plane entered Army Air Corps service on March 29, 1943, which means it just had its 80th birthday.”
The type of Wright engine that powered this particular BT-15 model, Hagley noted, also powered Sherman Tanks. It was first used by Army Air Corps and Navy flight instructors at Gunter Field near Montgomery, Alabama. When Gunter was closed, its operations were shifted to Maxwell Air Force Base.
The goal is to enable the veteran bird to again take wing. “Once we get this put together and in flying condition,” Kagley said, “it will only be about point five percent [.5%] of the originals that were built that are still flying.”
A few steps from Kagley’s position, grill sergeants Jim Tu and Erik Doden efficiently dispensed DVD-sized pancake batter onto hot griddles forming orderly rows of flapjack platoons. Their orders were projected silently with stares, nods and grins, not barks:
“Stand fast.” The pancakes begin to bake. A few moments later:
“Inspection.” Tu and Doden look for CO2 bubbles. When enough form:
“About face.” They flip the cakes with a spatula. Moments later:
“Stand Fast.” With their blades, they randomly spot-check for proper browning on the griddle side of the cakes. Moments later:
“Stand at ease.” The pancakes seem good to go, but there is maybe a twenty-second silent count. Then:
“Dismissed.” The cakes are dispatched into aluminum foil trays and quickly carried by couriers to serving tables in the hangar with the Spirit of St. Louis.
Next door, more volunteers parcel out the doughy DVDs, sausages, orange juice, milk and coffee. The chatty breakfast area is framed by machines, tool racks, airline and Air Force mementos and a shining BT-15 Valiant, another military trainer nearing the completion of a full makeover.
The rest of this flight
Beckie Grems is posted at a table near the Valiant’s tail. The Mayer, Minnesota, resident is selling Wings of the North hats, stickers, badges, toys and customized T-shirts. Grems and her WOTN partners sell the gear at other aviation events and fly-ins. “AirExpo is obviously our big draw in July,” she said. “We’ll have a little bit bigger spread there.”
Grems laughs as she describes her role with aviation as just “a passenger.” But there is more to her story. “My father,” she said, “was Air Force in the Vietnam era so he worked on B-52s. And I’ve grown up around aviation because he never walked away, really.” And, Becky says that she married a guy who is also a military aircraft fan and intends to be a general aviation pilot.
On Saturday morning, Eden Prairie was as overcast as London during the coronation of King Charles III. While the U.K. had its moments, visitors to a suburban airport overlooking the Minnesota River Valley were treated to their own jewels of sorts: a World War II-era biplane, a single-wing trainer, and a 1948 Beechcraft Bonanza — the sleek general aviation plane with its signature V-tail.
The Bonanza 35 is the grandest of six prizes in this year’s Wings of the North Sweepstakes 2023. Proceeds from the sweepstakes will also help fund the building of a new Wings of the North museum. Click the photo for details. According to Plane & Pilot Magazine, the three-passenger, single-pilot plane has been in production since 1947, longer than any other aircraft in history.
AirExpo 2023 will be staged on the south side of Flying Cloud Airport on July 22-23. It will feature a variety of military, medical and rescue helicopters, vintage fighter planes, a large C-130 Hercules transport, an A-10 Thunderbolt II jet, the Beechcraft Bonanza, 20-some aviation VIPs, ticketed rides in select aircraft, and pancakes.
Click here for AirExpo 2023 details and entry fees.
Editor’s note: Writer Jeff Strate is a founding member of the EPLN Board of Directors.
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