The smell of oil filled the air in the brightly lit airplane hangar crammed with history.
From a 1940s Jeep to a P-51 D Mustang — one of only six in the world to return home from World War II combat in Europe — the restored relics are unquestionably the main attractions at a new aviation museum in Eden Prairie.
Although air museums are closing elsewhere, the nonprofit Wings of the North bucked the trend and opened a museum just over a year ago after nearly two decades of organizing the annual AirExpo aviation show in Eden Prairie. It now showcases history year-round.
“That’s what we’re all about, telling the history,” director Bob Jasperson said. “We don’t want this history to be lost.”
The Wings of the North museum, which will mark its second year this summer, is housed in an office building and hangar at Flying Cloud Airport. It relocated there last fall after rapidly outgrowing its previous space at the airport.
The museum now includes a library, gift shop, art gallery and restored warplanes on loan from collectors. Aviation artifacts fill the displays, from a painting signed by the Doolittle Tokyo Raiders of 1942 to a collection of hand-painted model airplanes.
“This is a dream come true for a lot of us,” said Bob’s wife, Judy Jasperson.
The Burnsville couple, both pilots, helped open the museum. They share a love not just for aviation but preserving the history for generations.
Judy is curator while Bob, a former Air Force navigator and Vietnam War vet, is the museum’s director. Both were instrumental in opening the museum, said Steve Kaminsen, the nonprofit’s incoming president.
The Wings of the North started in 1998 after the former museum, Planes of Fame, relocated. But the idea for the museum didn’t take off until August 2015, thanks to the owners of restored planes who were willing to let their prized possessions go on display. Others donated dozens of smaller items.
The nonprofit is run by volunteers and donations, with about 30 people volunteering regularly.
Their mission is simply “to teach the history kids aren’t getting in school,” Bob Jasperson said, shaking his head after talking to young adults who hadn’t heard of the Doolittle Raid. Now the history is on display year-round at the museum, which is open Saturdays and Sundays.
“For years, we’ve considered ourselves the best kept secret in the Cities,” Kaminsen said. “[We all have] that passion to tell the stories of what all these normal, run-of-the-mill people did. It’s not just about the planes; it becomes about the people.”
The Wings of the North itself owns only one plane, a Vultee BT-15 from WWII that’s being restored by a crew of volunteers who plan to unveil it in a couple of years. Other restored airplanes on loan are rotated for display in the heated hangar.
On display this month are an L-4 Grasshopper from the Korean War, a B-25 Mitchell bomber, a Boeing Stearman, a TBM Avenger, an AT-6 Texan and the rare P-51 D Mustang. All the warbirds are operational and meticulously restored to what they looked like in their era, down to the color of paint and wires.
The nonprofit also has sponsored projects such as the restoration of a F-86H Sabre for Lakeville’s veterans memorial a few years ago.
While the air show, which will take place in July, is still the biggest fundraiser for the nonprofit, the Wings of the North is searching for other corporate backers, sponsors, grants, donations and volunteers to support it as it continues to expand and preserve history.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds,” Kaminsen said. “We’re only beginning.”