Residents and students piled into airplanes and helicopters at the airport this weekend to get a unique bird’s‑eye view of Hillsdale.
Over 1,000 people attended the Hillsdale Municipal Airport’s sixth annual Patriot Day Fly-In event Sunday, according to Hillsdale Municipal Airport Manager Ginger Moore. The event is held around Sept. 11 each year to honor veterans and first responders.
Helicopter and airplane rides were available for $40 and $20 per person, and a Vietnam War Huey helicopter gave rides for $99. The event also featured a car show in the parking lot.
“A lot of military-type aircraft come in to give rides, we have helicopter and airplane rides, we have a vintage car cruise-in,” Moore said. “It’s a bunch of fun for everybody.”
The airport has hosted a fly-in event every year for the past two decades, but six years ago, it started hosting the event around the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to honor the victims and heroes.
Pilots from Skywalker Flying, a flying school based at the Lenawee County Airport in Adrian, gave the plane rides in a Cessna 172M, a 1970s-era small plane.
Junior Samuel Barke attended the event and said he enjoyed seeing the “pretty sweet line up of cars, planes and helicopters.”
“I was able to go up in a helicopter and get an aerial view of Hillsdale,” he said. “If you have the opportunity I would highly recommend it.”
The Huey helicopter was flown from the Yankee Air Museum in Belleville, an aviation museum southwest of Detroit that offers flights in historic aircraft. The fuel for rides on the Huey was donated by Hillsdale College.
Several museum volunteers came to the Hillsdale event to help operate rides. One volunteer is Jim Wise, a Vietnam veteran who flew the same helicopters in the war from 1971 – 1972, and who is now the chief pilot for the Huey at the museum.
“The Yankee Air Museum has been in existence for over thirty years,” according to Wise, who has volunteered at the museum for the last 15 years. “The idea was to preserve aviation history in the Michigan area.”
During the war, Wise was tasked with flying over enemy land to see where they hid.
“My job was to fly as low and slow as I dared to try and draw fire, so we know where the bad guys are,” he said. “Big sky, little bullet. You have to think that way every day.”
The other two Huey pilots at the event also served in Vietnam. “The three of us have been flying helicopters for a few days,” Wise said.
The Huey helicopter used Sunday was a U‑H1 helicopter that came off the assembly line in 1966, Wise said.
The aircraft first spent 1,438 combat hours in air with the 240th Assault Helicopter Company in 1967. It went on to be used by several more companies, flying thousands more hours over Vietnam, even serving Navy Seals.
“We call it a living history experience,” Wise said. “It gives people the opportunity to fly on a historical aircraft.”
The Exchange Club of Hillsdale sold breakfast at the event, fundraising for its charitable activities throughout the year. The group also hosted a raffle to win free tickets for a Huey ride.
The airport makes no profit from the event, Moore said, and proceeds went to the Exchange Club and flight companies.
“It’s fun for the whole family, and always exciting,” Moore said. “Mother Nature gave us a great day.”