BEMIDJI—A World War II-era aircraft restored to its original condition in Bemidji will have the eyes of the world on it this Sunday when it soars over U.S. Bank Stadium for Super Bowl LII.
The airplane, a P-51 Mustang, is named Sierra Sue II and will lead the U.S. Air Force Heritage flyover the Super Bowl on Sunday evening.
The aircraft was restored in 2014 by AirCorps Aviation of Bemidji and now resides at the Flying Cloud Airport in Eden Prairie.
"We were honored to have the opportunity to restore the plane," said Eric Trueblood, senior vice president of sales and marketing at AirCorps. "The fact that the plane was restored in Minnesota, it's based in Minnesota and that it's flying over a Minnesota Super Bowl makes it a really unique situation."
According to a press release, the plane will be the first in a formation that also includes two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and an F-16 Fighting Falcon. Sierra Sue II will be piloted by Steve Hinton, a renowned American aviator who has experience flying 150 types of aircraft.
The flight will be made even more special as the airplane was actually used in the war, officials said In 1945, the Mustang was assigned to the 402nd Fighter Squadron, the 370th Fighter Group and the 9th Air Force.
According to Trueblood, AirCorps Aviation had to take apart the entire plane to restore it to its 1944 factory specifications, complete with full armor plating and World War II-era radios.
"Every rivet was drilled out of the airplane. It was disassembled and parts that needed to be replaced were done, but we tried to maintain as much of the original airplane that was built by the factory workers," Trueblood said. "We wanted to put as much of that plane back in the air as possible."
For Trueblood, the flight will mean a great deal of exposure for the Bemidji company. The biggest one-day sporting event in the world, the past few years, the Super Bowl has reached a TV audience of more than 110 million viewers. U.S. Bank Stadium, which has a transparent roof, seats 66,200.
"In terms of worldwide exposure, this is probably the largest audience that an airplane that AirCorps Aviation restored has been exposed to," Trueblood said. "It's nice to get an airplane with a storied history like that out to a mass of people who aren't normally following our industry or work.
"I think it's also a perfect thing to have happening over the national anthem," Trueblood said. "It's acknowledging those who've served so we can enjoy the freedoms that we have. I know that's what drives our customers to want to do something like this."
The airplane belongs to the Wings of the North Air Museum. The nonprofit organization promotes education of all ages by restoring and showcasing aircraft, as well as honoring Minnesota's aviation pathfinders and veterans.