By Sue Webber
Bob Jasperson of Burnsville started flying at age 15 at the Flying Cloud Airport. He graduated from Hopkins High School in 1964 and then got a degree in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota, where he entered the Air Force through the ROTC program, and also met his future wife, Judy.
“We were married in 1969, two days after I received both my degree and my Air Force commission,” Jasperson said.
Jasperson was stationed in Korea with the Air Force during the Vietnam war. But on Easter weekend 1972, his unit was deployed to temporary duty in Vietnam. During the next five months, he flew 115 missions.
“I was a back-seater, Weapons Systems Officer (WSO), or GIB (guy in back) in the F-4 Phantom twin-engine jet fighter,” Jasperson said.
“I had planned to do 20 years and retire, but the way the politicians ran the war in Southeast Asia and the way the public treated its servicemen changed my mind,” Jasperson said.
While he was in Vietnam, his wife got her pilot’s license at the Crystal Airport. “We were in a flying club that went all over the country,” Jasperson said. “There were 60 people in the club, and we had six airplanes.”
Following his discharge from the service, he had a variety of jobs: a used car salesman, a residential Realtor in Burnsville and Apple Valley, and a bar and restaurant partner in Burnsville for 15 years. For the last 21 years, he has worked in quality control at Kraemer Mining & Materials in Burnsville. His wife, Judy, also works there.
But what occupies more than 20 hours of the couple’s time each week is a project they share. In 1998, they opened the Wings of the North Air Museum in Eden Prairie. Bob is the director; Judy is the curator.
Honey, let’s start a museum
The group’s first event was a gathering of P-51 Mustang fighter-plane pilots in May of 1998, followed by Mustang Roundup ‘99 and annual AirExpos in the years since 2000.
In 2012, the group purchased hangar 72D on Sierra Lane at Flying Cloud Airport, where they operate Wings Restorations, the museum’s restoration arm.
In 2015, the group began leasing space to operate the museum adjacent to their offices. In August of 2016, the museum was moved to a new facility on the southeast corner of the airport, near the end of runway 36 and the control tower.
Wings of the North is dedicated to presenting and preserving aviation history by putting on air displays, symposiums, school presentations, and other programs.
“We are also ambassadors for the museum,” Jasperson said. “We speak at the Lions, Rotary and Kiwanis clubs.”
The small staff includes a couple of retirees who are docents, and a couple dozen people who do day-to-day work and planning, he said. “Many of us do two or three jobs,” he said.
The museum sponsors an annual AirExpo that draws 150-175 people for a weekend in July.
Jasperson said he sees a renewed interest in World War II these days. “Many, many families have an elderly member who is telling those stories,” he said. “World War II was different. Everyone on the home front was involved. There was rationing, and everyone helped with the war effort.”
Many families who had a father or grandfather in the military find photographs, uniforms or other service-related items that they donate to the museum.
One of the museum’s newest exhibits is a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis, given to the museum on loan from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission.
“It was made for the 1957 movie ‘The Spirit of St. Louis,’” Jasperson said. “It was trucked to our hanger and we put it together. It was created strictly as a movie prop. It was never intended to fly.”
Five aircraft are on display at the museum now; three others are out for work.
One is a P51D Mustang. “There were 15,000 built and only 300 are left in the world,” Jasperson said. “Six of them from the U.S. flew in combat and came back. This is one of the six. It’s a beautiful airplane.”
Another aircraft on display is a Boeing Stearman open-cockpit biplane used for training in World War II. “In 1943, George Herbert Walker Bush flew it as part of his training for World War II,” Jasperson said. “It was restored exactly as it was.”
The other two airplanes are an AT-6D Texan and an L-4 Grasshopper, a Piper Cub built for the military. “We have three more flying airplanes that should all be back in the near future, including the other Boeing Stearman that George H.W. Bush flew during his Navy training, a TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, and a Navy F4U-4 Corsair,” Jasperson said.
In a second hanger, museum volunteers are doing restoration work on an all-metal BT 15. “We have a talented group of volunteers,” Jasperson said. “We have lots of projects. A lot of our volunteers are into history. They aren’t aviators, but they like to tell the stories of people who served.”
A future as curators
Once the Jaspersons retire from their full-time jobs, he said, “We hope to be at the museum more. We hope to be open one day during the week. We’re still growing. We have lots of room.”
Story Musgrave, a physician and retired NASA astronaut who made six shuttle trips, will be at AirExpo 2017 on July 15-16 and will be the keynote speaker at the Evening with Eagles dinner on Saturday, July 15.
Bob is a native of Hopkins, and Judy grew up in Robbinsdale. Residents of Burnsville since 1975, the Jaspersons have two adult sons, a grandson and two granddaughters.
AirExpo 2017 tickets can be purchased on the group’s website or at the gate. Adults are $17, kids 7-12 are $5, kids 6 and under are free.
Wings of the North Museum is at 10100 Flying Cloud Drive, Eden Prairie. Hours are 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and also is available for private school or Boy Scout tours at other times during the week.
Information: wotn.org/museum, or 952-746-6100.