BY PAUL GROESSEL
AirExpo is back in Eden Prairie in a couple of weeks, and joining the usual aviation icons, historic aircrafts, food and other fare is an unlikely dog-fighting-turned-friend story.
AirExpo 2012, run by Wings of the North, has been scheduled 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. July 14-15, at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie, along with a special dinner Saturday night in Bloomington, where participants have a chance to eat with and hear stories from aviation "VIPs."
Wings of The North member and event organizer Bob Jasperson said the AirExpo is a community gathering.
"I tell people it’s a county fair; it just happens to have an aviation theme," Jasperson said. It even includes a children’s area with jump houses, a variety of vendors selling food and goods.
"It’s a full day," Jasperson said. "You can make a full day out of it. That’s for sure."
There will be plenty of pilots with stories to tell. Jasperson said 59 VIPs have confirmed their attendance for the event, some of them World War II veterans. Among them will be Dick Cole, a pilot in Jimmy Dolittle’s Raid, the attack on Japan in 1942 following the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Cole is coming from San Antonio, Texas, two months shy of his 97th birthday.
Other World War II veterans include Minnesota’s sole remaining Tuskegee Airman, Joe Gomer (recently honored with a bronze statue that was unveiled in Duluth) and Jim Hill of the Black Sheep Squadron.
There will be two members of Women Airforce Service pilots, formed after the attack on Pearl Harbor. The pilots, Elizabeth Strohfus and Jean London, both from Minnesota, will be at the show.
The list also includes several Aces, former Thunderbirds and retired Space Shuttle Commander Curt Brown.
That’s just a smattering of the 59 VIPs who have confirmed they will attend.
"[It’s] a real mix of people this year," Jasperson said.
Those VIPs will take part in a dinner Saturday night. The Evening with the Eagles Dinner and Symposium starts with a social hour 5:30 p.m. Saturday, July 14, at The Bloomington Double Tree, 7800 Normandale Blvd., Bloomington. Dinner follows at 6:30 p.m.
Jasperson said guests will be seated with the VIPs, three of whom will be interviewed by Stan Turner, the former KSTP news anchor.
Then, retired Gen. Dan Cherry will take over and tell the story of meeting and becoming friends with the Vietnamese pilot he shot down decades earlier during the Vietnam War. After Cherry flew to Vietnam to meet the pilot, Hong My, on live television, they spent time in their respective home countries, meeting each other’s families and becoming friends.
My will also be at the dinner. So will a third pilot in their chance meeting.
Before My was shot down, he shot down an American plane during the war. He wanted to know about the crew like Cherry wanted to know about My.
So, Cherry used the information My had about the incident to track down the plane’s navigator, Jon Stiles.
Organizers encourage people to buy dinner tickets early since they have sold out the last two years. Tickets are $47.50 and available for purchase on the event website, airexpo-mn.org.
What would a pilot’s story be without the plane?
Hear the pilot; see the plane.
Jasperson said they expect 40-45 aircraft for the weekend, include several World War II planes, such as the B-17 "Yankee Lady" that guests can pay to take a ride in. A MiG-21, like the one My flew, will also be at Flying Cloud Airport.
Event tickets are $10 in advance, sold online, and $15 at the gate. A pancake breakfast starts 8 a.m. both days of the show as well.
With all the activity, Jasperson said organizers are still looking for volunteers to help with the event. They need about 225 to help run it, and volunteers will receive special discounts and benefits.
Volunteer information and signup is on the event website, airexpo-mn.org.