This year marks the 50th anniversary for the Commemorative Air Force’s Minnesota Wing, one of the most active units within the organization. The unit formed on July 3rd, 1971 at historic Fleming Field in South Saint Paul. The Minnesota Wing was the very first charter unit of the National Headquarters Wing of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). Originally a maintenance unit, it supported the CAF’s mission and maintained its ever-growing fleet of vintage military aircraft, vehicles, and historic artifacts.
The unit’s original 25 members provided maintenance to CAF aircraft and traveled extensively in the performance of their duties. Gene Andreotti served as the Maintenance Squadron Commander. The Minnesota Wing didn’t start out with any aircraft of its own, however, over time, they acquired about half a dozen significant airframes: a B-25J Mitchell, P-51C Mustang (now part of the Red Tail Squadron), a Harvard Mk IV, an L-5 Sentinel, a BT-13A Valiant, a PT-22 Recruit, an L-17 Navion, and two PBY Catalinas (now assigned to the CAF-Lake Superior Squadron in Duluth).
In addition to maintaining its assigned aircraft, the Minnesota Wing acquired and restored several WWII-era military vehicles: a 1942 Ford GTB “Burma Truck”, a 1941 Willys Jeep, with ¼-ton trailer, a 1952 Willys Jeep, and a 1954 M-37 Weapons Carrier.
The Minnesota Wing has certainly had a lot of amazing moments over the years, from Miss Mitchell taking her first, post-restoration flight on April 18th, 1992 (50 years to the day after the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo) and then the honor of being the only B-25 to perform a flyover for General James H. Doolittle’s funeral in 1993. Interestingly, Lt Col Richard Cole, General Doolittle’s copilot on the Doolittle Raid, flew in Miss Mitchell to Oshkosh in 2014.
Today, the Minnesota Wing is home to six aircraft, a large motor pool fleet, and a unique collection of World War II artifacts, which are on display at the unit’s hangar.
The queen of the fleet is, without a doubt, North American B-25J Mitchell 44-29869 Miss Mitchell, which exemplifies a pristine example for what a dedicated group of volunteers can accomplish. Donated to the Minnesota Wing in the 1980’s, volunteers immediately began a complete ground-up restoration of this versatile medium bomber. Today Miss Mitchell represents one of the most authentic restorations in the warbird circuit. Other airplanes in the collection include an L-5 Sentinel, a BT-13 Valiant, an L-17 Navion and a Ryan PT-22.
The CAF Minnesota Wing’s hangar s located at Fleming Field. Prior to WWII, Fleming Field was known colloquially as “The Hook-Em-Cow Flying Club”. In 1939, the flying club was little more than a grass field. However, the U.S. Navy purchased the airfield in 1942, officially opening it on July 20th, 1943 to provide support for nearby NAS Minneapolis. The base’s name dedication ceremony took place on January 3, 1944 in memory of Captain Richard E. Fleming (USMCR) who died during the Battle of Midway on June 5th, 1942. Congress posthumously awarded Captain Fleming the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, and his fellow sailors chose to name the Minnesota airfield to honor his heroic sacrifice in the defense of Midway Island. Fleming Field served as a training base for Navy pilots during WWII, one of whom would later become President of the United States. In 1971, the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing (then the Southern Minnesota Wing) moved into Hangar 3 at Fleming Field, now a civilian-run airport.
Continuing their tradition of great firsts, in 2021 the Minnesota Wing will become the first CAF Charter unit to celebrate 50 years of service. Their first celebration will involve an Open House and History Flight Day on July 10th. Anyone interested in flying in a historic aircraft that day, may find out further details at the following link: https://www.cafmn.org/history-flights.html
The Wing’s other significant event taking place at Fleming Field this year will be a Hops & Props celebration on August 14th, 2021. This will bring local breweries, wineries, and cideries together for the community to toast the Minnesota Wing in style. To learn more about the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing, visit www.cafmn.org
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