Minnesota Flyer - Serving Midwest Aviation Since 1960

CAF Minnesota Wing Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Open House Features Cake, Aircraft Tours, Silent Auction


August 1, 2021

Jeremy D. Dando

The Minnesota Wing attends airshows, parades, and other events throughout the year. "Miss Mitchell," the Wing's B-25J, is pictured during a flyover at this year's Duluth Air Show.

The Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing recently celebrated its 50-year anniversary.

Approximately 300 attendees helped wing members celebrate July 10 during an open house that featured history flights, a food truck, aircraft tours, a silent auction, and plenty of cake.

The Minnesota Wing formed at Fleming Field in South St. Paul as the first charter unit of the national headquarters wing, operating as a maintenance support arm.

"Miss Mitchell," the Wing's B-25J, left the anniversary party early to complete a fly-over mission to the Hinckley Corn and Clover Parade.

The event was entitled "A Salute to the Military." That moniker was highly appropriate, given the fact after a 12-year restoration by the Wing, Miss Mitchell returned to flight on April 18, 1992, 50 years to the day of the Doolittle raid.

Larry Utter, who has been involved with the CAF Minnesota Wing since 1986, recalled how he became involved in the Miss Mitchell restoration project.

Utter started private pilot training and got his private pilot's license in 1976. He inadvertently went to an airshow hosted by the CAF a few years later. "I knew someone who was part of the group, and I started talking to them," Utter said.

After getting accepted into the organization by a World War II B-25 veteran, Utter started working on the aircraft's hydraulic systems as a volunteer under the supervision of Gene Andreotti.

"I earned my A&P here at the hangar," Utter explained. He didn't go to an aviation college, and received additional mentoring from CAF volunteers before taking his written and oral tests.

Utter eventually ended up becoming a crew chief. As he watched visitors slowly starting to arrive for the 50th anniversary celebration, Utter succinctly summarized the CAF's mission.

"We need to continue to bring these aircraft to the public, and teach them about the veterans who flew them," he said. Douglas Olson, another 35-year Minnesota Wing volunteer, agreed.

In 1964, Olson started taking flying lessons at Benson's Airport in White Bear Lake.

He went into the Minnesota Air National Guard and spent six years in there, from 1963 to 1969, serving as an aircraft mechanic and machinist.

After leaving Natural Guard service, Olson became a master machinist and master mechanic. "That's where my bread and butter came from," he said.

During one of the first or second CAF airshows in downtown St. Paul, Olson ran into his old section chief, who was the wing leader of the organization at the time.

"I did not have an FAA license," he said. After additional prodding from wing members, he obtained his A&P. Three years later, Olson had his Inspection Authorized (IA) certification.

"We get everyone involved with the different roles within the organization," Olson said. "Right now, our wing has four past, living maintenance officers. We have more A&P mechanics here in this organization at Fleming Field than the rest of the organizations in the CAF combined."

Olson's current project is a 1951 Navion B model, which is being restored as an L-17.

The aircraft was designed at the end of WWII by North American Aviation and later manufactured by Ryan.

It was designed for the civilian market, but also appealed to the U.S. Army Air Forces.

Tim Hennagir

Kurt Kurkari (far right, green hat) leads a B-25J flight briefing before Miss Mitchell's July 10 departure to the Hinckley Corn and Clover Parade.

From 1946-47, 1,109 were built. In 1946 a military prototype was designated the L-17. Only 83 of the L-17As were manufactured as liaison aircraft, personnel or cargo carriers, and as trainers.

"Even after 50 years, we remain a very small museum," Olson said. "Our biggest problem is getting young people interested." Recruiting new volunteers with appropriate skills is key. Olson said a critical need with the L-17 project is people who can do background research.

The Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing is home to six

aircraft, a large motor pool fleet, and a unique collection of World War II artifacts on display at Fleming Field in South St. Paul.

The organization attends airshows, parades, and other events throughout the year.

The non-profit organization also hosts two hangar dances and

several museum events at its facility. If you'd like learn what's happening with the Minnesota Wing, visit http://www.cafmn.org.


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