BEMIDJI, Minn. (WCCO) — One of the best parts about WCCO’s Goin’ to the Lake trips is learning more about the towns and the people that live in them.
Amelia and Liz were lucky enough to meet up with Erik Hokuf, who founded AirCorps Aviation in Bemidji.
And what they’re doing with old planes from World War II is pretty amazing.
“I grew up north of Bemidji in Pinewood, graduated from Bemidji High School,” Hokuf said.
So it only made sense that Erik Hokuf would end up back in Bemidji, running his own business.
“Early on I got interested in airplanes and aviation through 4H programs and was lucky enough to get a job at Bemidji Airport with Bemidji Aviation when I was 16,” Hokuf said.
Fast forward a few years and Erik was able to turn his passion for planes into a successful business. He found three partners and opened up Air Corps Aviation in 2011.
“So we had five people when we started in 2011 and now five years later, we have 27 employees,” Hokuf said.
He said their niche is World War II fighter jets. AirCorps Aviation gets their planes from all over the world, then works to restore them to their original glory.
“All the little details, factory signatures, markings, exact same paints, color and finishes,” Hokuf said.
The hardest part? Finding the parts for the planes.
“We travel around the country to find these parts but if we can’t find the parts, we have to make them and the majority of the parts we make here ourselves in the shop,” Hokuf said.
No matter how hard the restoration is, it’s clear that Erik and his crew love what they do.
“It’s really kind of a dream job for all of us,” Hokuf said. “One of the things that’s so neat about these airplanes is that they’re cool and they’re loud and fast but every one of them has an amazing story to tell.”
Some amazing stories, for sure. One of the planes you saw in that story was used by the Tuskegee Air Men, who were the first black air men to fight in World War II. The plane flies all over the country to share their story, was damaged and sent to Air Corps to be repaired.
If you’d like to check out what they’re doing at Air Corps Aviation they do offer up tours, but you have to set up a time in advance.