Imagine an airplane without an electrical system flying through the sky. This same fabric-covered aircraft has no radios or lights and needs a ground crew to help start it.
This airplane is the Boeing N2S-1 Stearman, an open cockpit biplane that the U.S. Navy used to train World War II pilots, including President George H.W. Bush. On display at Wings of the North’s aviation museum at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, this plane reflects only a small part of aviation history that the organization curates through its museum and annual air show.
Founded in 1998, Wings of the North formed after the previous local aviation museum, Planes of Fame, moved to California. Made up of the museum’s leftover volunteers, the nonprofit organization’s mission is to preserve and present World War II aviation history.
Wings of the North’s museum opened last August at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie. Walk in, sign your name in the modified old pilot’s logbook and prepare to engage with the past.
The museum is packed with many historical aviation artifacts including isolated airplane parts, like a radial engine and an ejection seat; aircraft instruments; aviation art prints; flying helmets; model airplanes; old uniforms and more. There’s even a library with history books that can be borrowed free of charge.
Then there’s the heart of the museum: the majestic World War II vintage airplanes. Currently, there are three on display with two more being restored off site. The three aircrafts—a P-51 D Mustang named Sierra Sue II, an AT-6 Texan and a Boeing N2S-1 Stearman—are all privately owned planes. “The people who own these airplanes love to fly them,” museum director Bob Jasperson says, noting that the airplanes fly about every week in the summer. “But they like to have people see them. They want people to understand what these airplanes did.”
The Mustang was the first World War II fighter plane to successfully escort Allied bomber planes throughout the entirety of their missions. Unlike the predecessor fighter planes with a smaller capacity for storing fuel, these Mustangs could complete the entire journey without needing to turn back. “They interviewed Hermann Goering [of the German Luftwaffe] after the war,” Jasperson says. “They asked him when did he think the war was lost for Germany. And he said, ‘The day I saw Mustangs over Berlin.’”
Each summer, Wings of the North hosts the AirExpo air show in July at Flying Cloud Airport. Attendance depends on the weather, but on average, the two-day show draws more than 7,000 people each year. AirExpo includes 40 historic planes, some of which will fly and make passes down the runway. You can also purchase tickets to ride in some of the planes or a civilian helicopter.
The event highlights the people who flew planes, too. About 40 VIP guests attend the event, ranging from pilots to shuttle commanders to other aviation figures. This year, one notable special guest is Doreen Welsh, a flight attendant on US Airways Flight 1549, which crash-landed into the Hudson River in New York in 2009. Welsh will give a formal presentation at the Evening with Eagles dinner on Saturday night on her perspective from the rear of the plane.
Whether it is attending the air show or strolling through the museum, you will ascend into aviation history with Wings of the North. “There’s a lot to look at,” Jasperson says of the museum’s extensive collection. “We’ve already outgrown our space.”
Wings of the North plans to move the museum to a larger hangar at Flying Cloud Airport this summer to accommodate the two additional aircrafts currently being restored.
- 9 a.m.-5 p.m. July 16
- 9 a.m.–4 p.m. July 17
- Flying Cloud Airport, 11800 Flying Cloud Drive, Gate A, Eden Prairie
- Admission: $15 for adults for one day, $5 for children ages 8–12.