A Living History of Flight

Wings of the North aviation museum in Eden Prairie maintains the stories of historic aircraft and their pilots.
Museum director Bob Jasperson stands with a treasured relic.

At Wings of the North, visitors encounter quite a few planes that have a story to tell, but even more people with their own narratives to share. The Eden Prairie museum began with a group of people, brought together through their own living history and the planes they met along the way.

Bob Jasperson is one of those storytellers. As the director of the museum, Jasperson helps take care of the exhibits, which are always in rotation. "Our planes are on loan to the museum," Jasperson says. "They're always flying out to visit other airports and shows."

Visitors can stop in to see the planes, as well as artifacts dating from World War II to the present. For those who want an even more in-depth history lesson, the museum boasts a library and an art library, where adults and kids can read about and view the history of aircraft.

Jasperson is quick to relay stories of planes in the hangar, his passion for aircraft evident in every telling. Ask a docent for an anecdote and you may hear about former President George H.W. Bush. "We have a Boeing Stearman, open-cockpit biplane that was based in Minneapolis in 1943. George Bush senior flew in it," Jasperson says. "Also a TBM Avenger, he was flying in [the same model] when it was shot down in World War II."

It's these threads of history that seem so far away, yet are so close in the hearts and memories of many, that the museum is trying to preserve. One of six Mustang planes that flew in combat in World War II, and returned, resides in the hangar. "In my opinion, what we do is so important because a lot of planes and people won't be around much longer," says fellow volunteer Kristi Benson. “We want to keep history alive. A lot of people that are a part of that history won’t be around long enough to share their story.”

Benson, now social media and pilot communications director, has been with the museum for 20 years. "Initially [my time] was for volunteer hours for school," Benson says. "The more I volunteered, the more people I was meeting and the more planes I was seeing. It was like a living history, seeing planes and meeting people with history in real life."

The tangible history, as Benson calls it, is what draws so many groups to the mission of preserving history—and by association—to the museum. Whether it is commercial airline pilots and their spouses or school tours, people are drawn in. "You can see, touch and listen to this history," Benson says. "People are passionate about it from all walks of life."

The museum is open to the public on weekends, but annual events include the AirExpo, a summer event. Those interested in further studying the aircraft and their stories can apply to the James F. Dubay Memorial Scholarship, an award given to people focused on pursuing their interest in aviation. "Whether it be flying, learning in class or nontraditional students, the scholarship is for someone looking to expand their knowledge," Jasperson says.

While the aircraft are the museum's shining jewels, its greatest asset may be its staff members, sharing their time  so the stories can live on—the planes are just the opening sentence.