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American Barnstormers to return to Brainerd

Spectators check out the vintage biplanes featured at the 2012 American Barnstormers stop in Brainerd. After a six-year hiatus, the tour returns July 15-17. Brainerd Dispatch file photo1 / 3
A pilot smiles in the open-air cockpit of a yellow biplane during the 2012 American Barnstormers tour in 2012. The event is planned to showcase the 1920s, featuring period costumes, authentic aircraft, as well as concessions and side attractions that pay tribute to the era. Brainerd Dispatch file photo2 / 3
Spectators congregate around the assortment of vintage aircraft at the 2012 American Barnstormers tour stop in Brainerd. Much like then, this year's iteration will feature 12 biplanes primarily from 1927-1933 -- an important stage in the rise of aviation. Brianerd Dispatch file photo3 / 3

After a six-year hiatus, Brainerd lakes residents can again take part in an aerial event bringing a hallmark of aviation history and placing it within reach in a tangible, exhilarating way.

The American Barnstormers tour stop is scheduled for 9 a.m.-6 p.m. each day, Sunday through Tuesday, July 15-17, at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport. The vintage aviation extravaganza will feature 15-minute open cockpit biplane rides and parked plane displays, as well as aerobatic demonstrations at 1 p.m. (circumstances permitting) each of those days.

Local aviator Mike Peterson said the event is a celebration of early aviation dating to the late 1920s through early 1930s, and will feature authentic biplanes, costumes and food paying tribute to that era. Everyone is invited to attend and there is no entrance fee—though refreshments and concessions will be available for purchase, as well as airplane rides for $80 per passenger. Free parking will be off-site at the western end of the airport, where open-air trams towed by antique tractors will take people to and from the event.

"When you look at these things, you wouldn't know they're old. They're perfect. They're completely restored. They've been stripped down to nothing and then rebuilt," Peterson said of the biplanes, most of which were originally built at the tail end of the Jazz Age, between 1927 to 1929. "We (have) seven airplanes static (stationary) and five giving rides, so you can come out and take a biplane ride if you want. If you've never been in a biplane, it's quite a treat, it's a lot of fun."

The event is designed to showcase some of the earliest days of aviation during the early interwar period—something of a reenactment of the era—from the gleaming biplanes, to leather gear that wouldn't look out of place on Amelia Earhart or Charles Lindbergh, all the way down to the $1 hot dogs or bags of popcorn for a nickel. Flyovers by modern F-16s are planned between 1-3 p.m. Tuesday to illustrate the enormous strides aviation has taken in roughly 80 years.

"It's a chunk of living history, is what it is. It's an opportunity for people to come out and see these planes fly, fly in them if they want to and just be around these beautiful airplanes," Peterson said. "The idea is to immerse you in the '20s. We're trying to show you what it was like in 1929."

This will be the first time the American Barnstormers will be on tour since 2012—the result of lack of funding, said Peterson, who noted the entire operation represents a monthlong cross-country trek for more than 30 people and 12 vintage planes, where accomodations, food and compensation have to be accounted for. While the tour has a strong charitable bent, it's not designed to to be a nonprofit venture, but self-sustaining and self-funding.

However, only a few rainy days can derail the profitability of a tour, Peterson said. While tour backers were originally skeptical of putting Brainerd on the schedule in 2012, the event's popularity and strong turnout that year meant it was selected for the 2018 iteration, which specifically caters to cities deemed financially viable.

The tour started July 5-7 in Jefferson City, Mo., then continued July 8-10 in Ames, Iowa. It's then slated for Thursday through Saturday, July 12-14, at Watertown, S.D., Sunday through Tuesday at Brainerd, July 19-21 at Eau Claire, Wis., and will conclude July 22 at the 2018 EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis.