The nonprofit Wings of the North (WOTN) is set to take off with its 25th annual AirExpo this weekend at Eden Prairie’s Flying Cloud Airport, featuring 30 to 40 vintage aircraft and more than 20 aviation veterans.
Gates open at 8 a.m. on both days. The event will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 22, and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, July 23. Tickets are $30 at the gate for adults, $25 when purchased online in advance, and $5 for children ages 6-17. Admission is free for children 5 and under.
In addition to aircraft displays and guest appearances, AirExpo 2023 will offer a pancake breakfast from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. on both days, numerous exhibits in the hangar, and the chance for attendees to enjoy plane rides.
WOTN spokesperson Bob Jasperson emphasized that the show serves a dual purpose: providing an entertaining family outing while offering a practical history lesson.
“Aviation has always fascinated people and it has led to advances that have benefited everyone,” Jasperson said. “Wings of the North tries to present all aspects of aviation history, but the heart of the show is still the aircraft and veterans of the World War II era.”
Planning for liftoff
Jasperson, a longtime WOTN volunteer and current president of its board of directors, shared that planning the air show is a year-round task.
Recently, he discussed the air show, the organization’s fourth annual airplane sweepstakes, and the search for a new museum location at the airport.
“It should be a good show,” he said. “It’s very weather-dependent, unfortunately. During last year’s air show, we lost half a day on Saturday afternoon due to a thunderstorm, which we fear cost us about $20,000. With an outdoor wedding, you can always have a backup venue. But with an air show, that’s not an option.”
If the weather is decent, Jasperson said the show typically attracts 7,000 and 8,000 aviation enthusiasts over the weekend.
Among the showcased vintage aircraft at the AirExpo will be the C-130 Hercules cargo plane from the 133rd Airlift Wing, stationed at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. According to WOTN, it is believed to be the largest aircraft ever to land at Flying Cloud Airport.
Jasperson highlighted the C-130 as a major draw, noting that last year, people stood in line for an hour to peek inside this aircraft.
Additionally, two A-10 Thunderbolt II planes from the 303rd Fighter Squadron are set to perform a flyover on Saturday morning. “If we time it correctly, they’ll be flying over while the National Anthem is playing,” he said.
Visitors can expect many World War II-era airplanes, including the North American T-6 Texan, P-51D Mustang “Sierra Sue II,” F4U-4 Corsair, and the N2S-1 Stearman training biplane once piloted by President George H. W. Bush.
Among the aviation veterans at the event are two World War II veterans: Robert Holmstrom, a B-24 tail gunner, and Jim Rasmussen, a B-17 navigator.
“Unfortunately, the B-17 (bomber) can’t come this year,” Jasperson said. “All B-17s had been grounded due to a wing spar rust problem discovered on one of them. The “Yankee Lady” from the Yankee Air Museum, which often visits our show, was the first to pass all inspections and get back in the air. However, it recently suffered an engine failure and will be grounded for at least two to three weeks for repairs. It’s quite a setback since the bomber usually sells rides at our show more so than any other show they attend.”
During this year’s show, Jasperson can be found with other volunteers, handing out cards about the WOTN sweepstakes. WOTN is selling tickets for its annual airplane sweepstakes, with a 1948 Beechcraft Bonanza 35 called “BB8” as the prize.
“She’s from the golden era of post-war civilian production and she’s been nicely refurbished,” he said.
The alternate grand prize is $35,000 in cash if the winner doesn’t need an airplane. The drawing will be at WOTN’s fall pancake breakfast on Sept. 9.
“This is our fourth annual sweepstakes, which is as big a moneymaker for us as the air show,” he said. “And it’s a lot easier to do because it’s all done online. Last year, we sold tickets in 47 states and two Canadian provinces.”
WOTN has the same airplane to give away two years in a row.
“The gentleman that won last year wasn’t a pilot, so he took the alternate prize of $35,000, and left us the airplane,” he said. “We got a head start on the 2023 sweepstakes since we didn’t have to hunt for another airplane.”
Last year, Jasperson said, the sweepstakes was strictly $50 per ticket.
“This year we’re doing a new thing,” he said. “It’s still $50, or people can buy three entries for $120. So, they get a little bit of a discount. We’ve been averaging about $43 a ticket, so I guess most of them are buying that three-pack of tickets. We might sell more tickets and not make a whole lot more money, but like I said, it’s really a lot easier to do than the show itself.”
Seeking museum home
While WOTN is widely recognized for its annual AirExpo, it also boasts an extensive collection of aviation-centric items, including wartime art, two thousand books, and uniforms.
That includes a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, featured in the 1957 James Stewart-starring film about Charles Lindbergh. This non-flying stage prop, built by Warner Brothers, was displayed for years at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“We are a Minnesota aviation museum,” he said, stressing its local ties. “We focus on highlighting Minnesota’s aviation history.”
Currently, the majority of this collection is in storage. In August 2021, WOTN lost its five-year lease at Club Jet Charter, located on the airport’s south side, requiring them to vacate the space. However, the organization maintains a small hangar at Flying Cloud, where some museum items are stored.
“The airplanes we didn’t own,” he said. “They were owned by private owners. They were just on loan to the museum. When we closed they went back to their private hangars.”
Jasperson and his wife, Judy, are integral to the museum’s operation. He serves as the volunteer director, while Judy acts as the volunteer curator.
“When we had the museum, we each had their own spiel as we gave people tours of the museum,” he said. “And we’ve been closed for two years now and we can’t remember half of it. But between the two of us, we remember everything. So we finish each other’s thoughts sometimes.”
Jasperson emphasized that the WOTN board of directors is keen on finding a new home at Flying Cloud to accommodate the museum. (In February 2022, EPLN contributor Mark Weber reported on WOTN’s search for a new location for its museum.)
“We have a full museum; we just need a building to house it,” he said.
He also mentioned the current lack of available spaces at the airport for WOTN to lease or buy.
“Our goal is to raise enough funds to own our own building and not have a landlord anymore,” he said. “This might involve purchasing an existing hangar or building a new one. As of now, there’s nothing available, so our collection remains in storage.”
For real-time updates on AirExpo 2023, visit the Wings of the North Facebook page.
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