By John Lauritsen

BLOOMINGTON, Minn. (WCCO) — There’s a little-known place in the Twin Cities where history is taking flight.

For decades, Northwest Airlines was headquartered in the Twin Cities before they merged with Delta in 2008.

But the airline is far from forgotten.

In this week’s Finding Minnesota, we take you to the new Northwest Museum in Bloomington.

“Everybody knows about pilots and flight attendants and yes their work is very important. But they don’t get off the ground without us,” said Bruce Kitt.

Spoken like a true aircraft mechanic. Which is exactly what Kitt was for Northwest Airlines for 26 years. Now, instead of working on planes, he’s working to keep history alive.

“It had grown from a small, little, regional airline to, especially after World War II, it became a global airline,” said Kitt, executive director of the Northwest Airlines History Center.

And everything that airline stood for, for 80-plus years, can now be found on the third floor of the Crowne Plaza Air in Bloomington. It was the hotel that wanted the Northwest museum here.

northwest airlines history center History Takes Flight At Northwest Airlines Museum

(credit: CBS)

“As the Godfather said, they made us an offer we couldn’t refuse,” said Kitt.

The museum is like going down a runway of airline artifacts. Northwest got its start in 1926, and really took off during World War II. The military used their planes to fly from Minneapolis all the way to the Aleutian Islands.

“Based on that experience, Northwest got used to flying long distances in terrible weather,” said Kitt.

And after the war, that helped Northwest become one of the first legacy airlines to have non-stop service to Asia.

The commercials always featured a “gong” noise at the end.

“[The gong] is one of the most asked about artifacts when guests come into the museum,” said Kitt.northwest airlines gong History Takes Flight At Northwest Airlines Museum

And it’s one one of 4,000 artifacts in the museum. That includes a history of uniforms dating back to when a flight attendant was known as a stewardess.

“The women were not allowed to be married. They had to be under 30. They had to look a certain way, weigh a certain amount,” said Chuck Huntley, director of operations.

That all changed in the sixties. Though, Northwest and other airlines may have been a bit “delayed” in their policies and their uniforms.

“As you can see, these were what I refer to as the Austin Powers era,” said Huntley.

Well before Northwest merged with Delta in 2008, the airline was known for having a huge fleet of “whales” — an affectionate nickname for 747s. At its peak, Northwest had more 747s than any other airline. They took pleasure-seekers and professionals to nearly 200 destinations around the word. Proving that, as their old saying goes, “some people just know how to fly.”

“Northwest gave them the ability, especially after 1947, they could go from Minneapolis to anywhere in the world their business needed them. This is what put the Upper Midwest on the map,” said Kitt.

For more information on when you can visit the museum, check out the Northwest Airlines History Center Facebook page.


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