GRANITE FALLS - Wearing the shirt from his original Air Force uniform, 92-year-old Al Stevens of Granite Falls settled into the seat of a P-26 airplane Saturday morning during the grand opening of the Fagen Fighters World War II museum.
His wife, Ann, got up close to snap a few photos. For one of the activities during the grand opening, people got the chance to take WWII trainer flights during the day.
"And (he's) very thrilled to have this ride," Ann Stevens said.
Photo by Cindy Votruba
Jeff Skiles, the co-pilot of the “Miracle on the Hudson”?flight, was one of the guest speakers at the grand opening of the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum Saturday. He talked about the EAA?Young Eagles program.
John and Joan Brown of Minnesota City and Mike and Anne Brown of Granite Falls were waiting to see off John, who was also taking a ride in the plane.
"We're here to watch him take off and come back," Joan Brown said.
People from around the region got to check out the WWII-era planes, vehicles, equipment and displays at the grand opening Saturday, which included an appearance by "Miracle on the Hudson" co-pilot Jeff Skiles.
Skiles is the co-chairman of the EAA Young Eagles program, which gives children ages 8-17 their first introduction to aviation. He said he was impressed with the museum.
"What a fantastic museum, it's a wonderful museum," Skiles said. "It's extremely well-thought out displays, a professionally-designed museum facility."
"This museum is absolutely tremendous," Skiles added.
After he exited the P-26, Al Stevens got to meet Skiles.
"We were at the 'miracle on the prairie,'" Ann Stevens said about her husband's 15-minute flight on Saturday.
Al Stevens said the flight went well.
"It brings back memories," Al Stevens said. Al Stevens worked with B-26s when he was in the Air Force. "I worked on the flight with operations."
John Brown, who also served in the Air Force, enjoyed his ride as well.
"It's a very smooth flying plane," John Brown said.
Skiles, who spoke about the Young Eagles program, said in the 20 years of the program, 1.7 million kids have gotten their chance to fly.
Yellow Medicine East High school students Mariah Norell, Emma Wood and Ali Ator dressed and performed as the Andrew Sisters as part of the day's entertainment. They said the museum was "really cool."
"I haven't been out here at all," Norell said.
Jim and Diane Fixen of Marshall, and their son, Quentin, took in some of the outside displays. Quentin Fixen described the museum as a "class A facility."
"They did just a famous job here," Jim Fixen said. Diane Fixen noted that the ambulance on exhibit was similar to the one her father drove during WWII.
As they looked at some of the displays, Frank Chapin and Jim Langmo, both of Willmar, appreciated what they saw.
"It's beautiful, just beautiful," Chapin, a Navy vet, said.
"It's just fantastic," Langmo said.
Langmo said he's read a lot about the P-38 planes and this is the first time he's seen a real one up close.
"The people here are those who remember these (planes)," Langmo said.
Steve Sarkis of Bloomington and Jack Lysne of Savage were taking a closer look one of the planes. Sarkis said there used to be a nice, WWII-themed museum at Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie and was glad to see there was one in Granite Falls.
"When we saw it on the news, we had to come here and see it," Sarkis said.
"It's great," Lysne said.
About the museum's new director
Greg Gibson has sales and marketing background in the automotive, technology and aviation industries. A native of North Florida, he is a commercial pilot and holds an instrument rating in both single and multi-engine aircraft. Gibson began flying in 2003 and soon discovered his life's passion is in aviation. While continuing his own flight education, he was the media director for an airshow competition series in 2005-2006, and worked as the director of flight operations at a small airport in Birmingham, Ala.
Gibson moved back to Tampa, Fla., in 2007 and started Tailwind Enterprises, Inc., an aviation marketing firm specializing in the branding and marketing of airshow performers, FBO's, flight schools, and other aviationrelated businesses.
Through this work, he was introduced to veteran airshow performer Greg Poe, who had recently begun working with Fagen, Inc. as his sponsor, promoting ethanol as a domestic fuel alternative to foreign oil. Gibson organized all media operations, maintained all company website and print materials and acted as photographer and videographer during media flights and airshows.
After Poe's sudden passing in 2011, the Fagens retained Gibson in their business development team. Later that same year, they informed him of their plan to open the Fagen Fighters WWII Museum, offering him the role of director, a title he assumed in May of this year. He works closely with the Fagens, helping to develop their vision and to oversee the museum's layout, exhibits, public relations and maintenance.
Gibson is married to Jackie, his wife of 21 years, and has two daughters, Randi and Reagan. He has recently moved to New London.