The Second World War sent Americans to the beaches of France, the jungles of New Guinea, the deserts of Egypt … and the pleasant green fields of Eden Prairie. The town had little else to offer back in the 1940s, but open fields were precisely what the U.S. Navy wanted. Paved runways and air traffic control towers are a scarce commodity during wartime, and capable pilots must know how to take off and land without them.
“Eden Prairie was the perfect spot for the Navy’s airport precisely because there wasn’t already an airport here,” said Dana Nelson, director of stakeholder management for the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC). “Flat and empty – some people use those words to criticize our beautiful state, but sometimes flat and empty are just what you need.
“The Navy had built up a sizable infrastructure here by the time the war ended. The MAC took control of day-to-day operations in 1948, and thanks to the proximity of downtown Minneapolis and MSP we were able to quickly develop Flying Cloud into a reliever airport.
“Reliever airports wouldn’t serve as hubs for an airline like Delta or Sun Country. They do provide general aviation access to the greater community, and also help to relieve general aviation congestion at commercial service airports.
“As a reliever airport, Flying Cloud sees virtually every kind of flight activity. Private citizens who have always dreamt of earning their pilot licenses come here often. We are a hub for recreational single- and multi-engine aircraft, corporate jets and helicopters, and also home to several businesses which offer everything from aviation lessons to custom upholstery.
“We are especially proud to support life-saving services. Organ, eye and tissue transplant deliveries, where time is of the essence, are often routed through Flying Cloud. Our airport also plays a crucial role in connecting medical teams with patients who are in need of life-saving operations but separated by great distances.
“Relatively fewer people move through a reliever airport. But at one point in its history, Flying Cloud was on par with the busiest airports in the central United States. In the 1960s Flying Cloud was second only to O'Hare International Airport in terms of individual takeoffs and landings.
“We are still fantastically busy to this day. In 2020 we became the busiest MAC reliever airport with 124,382 total individual operations, and for a few days we became one of the busiest airports in the country. This was largely due to the dynamics of the pandemic. Many people in the Twin Cities metropolitan area had a lot more time on their hands than usual, which they took as an opportunity to learn how to fly. And, of course, much of the commercial activity at larger airports was suspended during last year.
“But even if you factor the pandemic out of the equation, we are currently seeing tremendous growth. Since 2017 we have attracted more than $16.4 million in private investment in hangar construction and renovation at Flying Cloud Airport alone.
“Flying Cloud’s success only poses a net gain to the local economy. In 2020 we generated $229 million in economic output – $2.6 million of which went straight back to Eden Prairie and the state of Minnesota. Our revenue is generated solely from hangar leases and activity based fees for services such as landing and fuel. We receive zero funding from local sales or property tax dollars.
“We additionally contribute a great deal to the local job market. Not only do 340 people work directly for the airport – an additional 850 work at the food wholesalers, car services, and other nearby businesses which rely on the revenue they receive from our operations.
“Our community is probably most aware of Flying Cloud for our annual AirExpo, which Wings of the North hosted this year during the fourth weekend of July. People came from all over the Midwest to see the C-130 Hercules, P-51 Mustang, B-17 Flying Fortress, and several other vintage military aircraft on display. It’s always inspiring when veterans come to the AirExpo and share their stories of piloting these planes. We also had lots of enthusiasts visit from across the five-state area to show off their private aircraft, as well as F-16 flyovers courtesy of our Armed Forces.
“Wings of the North isn’t affiliated with MAC, but their museum at Flying Cloud is a wonderful year-round attraction. They have antiques dating back to the advent of aviation including gliders, radial engine aircraft, and military aircraft like the Vought F4U Corsair and the TBM-3E Avenger. And if you’re just looking for a scenic picnic spot, you’ll love our aircraft viewing area. It’s a great vantage point for the wide variety of aircraft that use our airport.
“Stars of the North, the Minneapolis area chapter of Women in Aviation International, is hosting Girls in Aviation Day at Flying Cloud on the 25th of this month. The special event (which welcomes girls and boys) is a great chance for kids to come and see what’s inside the fence and get excited about careers in STEM.”
Please visit metroairports.org to learn more about the MAC and everything Flying Cloud Airport has to offer.
A Take-Off Economy
Flying Cloud Airport generates $229 million in revenue annually – without costing one cent of your tax dollars. The airport currently supports 1,190 jobs, including 340 jobs tied directly to on-site businesses.
Flying Cloud Airport began in 1941 as a base for U.S. Navy pilot training. At its onset the airport had no paved runways or air traffic controller tower – perfect for learning how to land a PBY Catalinas under suboptimal conditions.
Busier Than JFK
During the 1960s, Flying Cloud Airport was second only to O'Hare International Airport in number of annual takeoffs and landings. Although fewer people passed through Eden Prairie than New York City, Flying Cloud’s popularity for training exercises drew more actual air traffic.
A Community Hub
Flying Cloud Airport’s annual AirExpo gives the people a chance to see classic planes up close and in flight. Girls in Aviation Day welcomes all children to observe a busy airport’s inner workings, and the Wings of the North Museum houses over one dozen rare aircraft.
"In 2020 we became the busiest MAC reliever airport with 124,382 total individual operations, and for a few days we became one of the busiest airports in the country."