Inver Grove Heights Convention & Visitors Bureau

By Stacy Brooks, Blogger, for Visit Inver Grove Heights

If you’ve ever spotted a WWII aircraft flying over Inver Grove Heights, it’s not your imagination—it’s one of the planes from the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing!

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing

Located at Fleming Field Airport in South Saint Paul, the Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing is home to six historic aircraft, a fleet of military vehicles, and a collection of WWII artifacts.  

“Our mission is to preserve aviation military history and tell the stories of the men and women who flew and fought with the aircraft and vehicles,” says Amy Lauria, the organization’s development officer.  She notes that the museum primarily focuses on WWII, although they have started to incorporate the Korean and Vietnam Wars.  Historic planes are maintained in flying condition and can be booked for a private history flight.

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing

Currently, the museum is open on Saturdays from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., weather permitting.  Admission is free of charge, and donations are welcome and appreciated. 

The museum is an excellent educational opportunity for visitors of all ages, especially parents looking for interactive opportunities to supplement their children’s distance learning.   “Lots of schools don’t teach much about WWII any more—we preserve those stories so people can hear about them,” Lauria says.

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing

“We’re currently working on educational classes, and we’re hoping to add some STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math] content in 2021,” she continues.  “We have lots of South Saint  Paul history, too—Fleming Field was used during WWII, we have exhibits about that.  Our docents can give tours for background and education.  Even our Link trainer [a WWII-era flight simulator] is a great comparison to modern simulators.  There’s a huge contrast with where the technology has gone.”

Photo Credit: Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing

Lauria’s favorite part of the museum is the trench art exhibit, which highlights the ways that servicemembers passed their time.  “They would carve things in their canteens, make jewelry, do different things.  We have items donated from a gentleman who carved every place he went into his canteen—he couldn’t keep a journal [for security reasons] in case he was captured.”

Due to COVID-19 precautions, some of the museum’s more interactive aspects have been temporarily scaled back.  Typically, visitors can sit in the planes, but the difficulty of sanitizing all the surfaces of a historic aircraft has made that off-limits for now.  However, visitors can still tour the full museum, view the exteriors of the aircraft, and look into the historic vehicles.  Lauria encourages those who aren’t ready for an in-person visit to check out the organization’s Facebook page, YouTube channel, and website.

Photo Credit: Visit Inver Grove Heights

“We really have something for everyone,” she says.  “We’re located at an active airport, and with the hangar door open you can see airplanes coming and going.  We get a lot of school-age kids that come through, we’ve even had preschool groups.  Aircraft are really cool to see, especially for a 5-year-old.”

Lauria notes that the museum’s focus on WWII has taken on an added importance in light of current events.  “It’s a beacon of hope to keep moving forward—the Greatest Generation has so many amazing stories of bravery that people need to hear and be reminded of.  We’ve been through tough times before, and we can get through this.”

Commemorative Air Force Minnesota Wing

Fleming Field

310 Airport Road, Hangar 3

South Saint Paul, MN 55075