More than 45 planes, helicopters, and other aircraft from across the state filled the runways of the Hillsdale Municipal Airport on Sunday, Sept. 11 for the annual Airport Fly-In sponsored by the Hillsdale Exchange Club.
“We typically do the fly-in during the summer,” Airport manager Jason Walters said. “We looked at a lot of dates to make this work in September and thought about Patriot’s Day, observed on Sept. 11. It’s a solemn day, a day for remembering, but we also thought we should celebrate how America has fought, grown, and that we can celebrate our patriotism. That’s what today is all about.”
The Hillsdale Airport has held a fly-in day every summer for the past 25 years, but this is the first time they’ve ever held it on September 11 to honor the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks. More than 250 people attended the event.
Walters said months of planning brought together the rows of antique cars, service vehicles from the Hillsdale fire and police departments, a full course breakfast, and airplane and helicopter rides for the six-hour event.
“It’s been a great day. It was actually my grandson’s first time ever in an airplane,” Hillsdale resident Robert Bostain said. “It’s a lot of festivities and it’s great to show that we aren’t afraid. This is inspiring.”
In addition to crowds of veterans, active members of the United States Army and the Michigan National Guard were also at the airport. Soldiers were recruiting, sharing their military experiences, and taking pictures with kids.
“9/11 has had a big impact on me,” Lt. Mejeur said after breaking away from a photo with soldiers in his unit. “That’s what made me want to join after college. It’s why I want to continue to serve and to give back to our country — to stop things like what happened that day from happening.”
The Michigan National Guard stole the show when they flew in the “Chinook” Boeing CH-47, a 50,000 pound helicopter. According to sergeant first class Michael Engel, the “Chinook” is used for a wide variety of military operations, ranging from carrying troops into battle to transporting military vehicles and supplies.
Admission to the event was free, but revenue generated from t-shirts, the pancake breakfast, and helicopter and airplane rides will go directly to the troops themselves.
“The Hillsdale Exchange Club will raise about $3,000 to $4,000 to help our veterans from this event,” Exchange Club President Danielle Boyd said. “It’s great that we can get the community behind this cause.”
Members of the fire department also set up their fire engines among the colorful rows of antique “rocket red Chevy Corvettes” and “baby blue Oldsmobile Cutlasses” cars on display in the parking lot.
Among the crowds of active residents eagerly rushing from one attraction to the next, the group of firemen were silent, quietly observing the festivities.
When the Twin Towers collapsed 16 years ago on September 11, 343 firefighters died instantly. While the time passes on, and many guests said they don’t feel like they need to be afraid anymore, members of the fire department said they will simply not forget.
“This day is a tribute, a reminder,” Captain of the Hillsdale Fire Department Terry McVay said, as he held back tears. “As people are celebrating, I want them to know that I’m here to support the people and everyone around us.”
As the 50,000 pound US Army “Chinook” helicopter took off the Hillsdale runway, the wind from the two sets of 60-foot propellers pushed off attendants’ sunglasses and pulled open jackets. But the fireman’s jacket and helmet, sitting softly on the chain link fence nearby didn’t budge.