Large crowds came out to the Anoka County-Blaine Airport June 1-2 to discover or reminisce about airplanes, both historical and contemporary.
Discover Aviation Days featured general, corporate, experimental, home-built, World War II fighters, trainers and bombers along with vintage and modern military aircraft. Fly-overs took place throughout the day, including a couple of passes by a T-6 Thunder Squadron.
The event was just as fascinating away from the planes inside the education tent where World War II veterans such as Wayne G. Johnson of Beaver Bay, Owen Mobley of St. Croix Falls, Wis., and Betty Strohfus of Faribault shared their stories or sold their books.
Johnson was part of the Flying Tigers fighter plane squadron that protected bomber planes on missions to bomb Japanese strongholds in China. The Flying Tigers were American volunteers who assisted the Chinese Air Force during World War II. Johnson enlisted in the Army Air Corps Dec. 8, 1941 — just one day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor — and was in the service until 1946. He was in China from 1944 to 1945. He is a member of the Minnesota Aviation Hall of Fame.
Mobley was an aircraft mechanic for United Airlines when World War II started, He used these skills to assist the military air fleet during the Aleutian Islands campaign and later during the advance from France to Germany late in the war. He was part of the Third U.S. Army and had the privilege of meeting Gen. George Patton and Gen. Dwight Eisenhower.
Strohfus was part of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP). With there being a limited number of male pilots and with all of them needed in combat, these women trained the men and ferried planes from factories to bases. There were only 1,074 WASPs. Strohfus said some of the men were skeptical when they saw her sitting in the pilot’s seat during the initial training flight, but she quickly gained their respect and made a few of them queasy after she showed what she was capable of. She was first based at the Laredo Army Air Field in Texas and then Las Vegas. She served from August 1942 through December 1944.
Astronaut Curt Brown was one of the featured speakers in the education tent. He is a veteran of six space flights and has many other duties for NASA since becoming an astronaut in 1988.
Eric Hagen is at [email protected]