Molly Peebles - Flight Across America
|By Donna Miller, Ambassador Chapter
99 News Magazine
Late one night, sifting through email and contemplating my first year of furlough from American Airlines, a note caught my eye. But it wasn't about the flying job I was desperately searching for. It directed me to a website, where I shuffled through the pages, excitement and possibilities bursting into my head. A few minutes later, I filed my job search near the front of my "hot inactive file" and started typing another application. This one, however, had to pass muster.
My application was to represent Colorado in a project called, "Flight Across America" an event which grew from the vision of Molly Peebles, a brand new Ninety-Nine from Washington State. Like all of us, Molly was deeply affected by the tragic events of September 11th, 2001, but an idea moved her to action, and "Flight Across America" took off. She envisioned a national event where one pilot selected from each of the 50 states would carry their state's flag on an historic flight across the country, bringing it to the State of New York, and presenting it to New York City as a message of remembrance and healing. "`Flight Across America' is about bringing a nation together through the celebration of flight;' said Molly, now the project's executive director as well as architect. "The act of fifty pilots carrying their state flags across the country into New York City is symbolic of a nation coming together to stand in solidarity. We are a resilient people capable of creating great possibilities, and the Flight Across America is one example." Peebles believed the event would rekindle aviation's original spirit of courage and vision. Her vision spread like fire across the country and pilots quickly queued up to be chosen as their state's flag bearer.
I spent the next several weeks anxiously waiting for word whether I'd been chosen and laying some preliminary groundwork. Nancy Aldrich, my dear friend and retired United Airlines pilot caught my excitement as well and quickly volunteered her Cessna 182 to carry the Colorado state flag. Soon we were pouring over charts and bank accounts, figuring out how to put Molly's dream into action. Apart from planning the normal routes and fuel stops, Nancy and I decided on two other goals. First, we wanted to get school children involved at each stop along the way. And we wanted to make a special stop at Somerset, Pennsylvania to lay a wreath at the memorial site where Jason Dahl, resident of Colorado and Captain of the ill-fated Flight 93, lost his life with 39 other innocent people. In early August, l got word I'd been selected, and Nancy and I set to work in earnest.
Nancy left Leakey, Texas on August 29, piloting her C-182 north towards Colorado. The morning of her departure, a busload of local school children appeared at the airport to see Nancy off, and give her mementos to carry to New York. I had met earlier with fifth grade students at two elementary schools in the Denver area and had my own stash of letters, pictures, and poems to carry to New York. Each time Nancy and I look at these gifts, we are reminded again of how sincere these children were in wanting to help heal the nation.
The morning was blue and beautiful as we departed Centennial Airport early on August 31st. Many of the Colorado 99s came out to help send us off, along with Denver's Remington Elementary School 5th graders. We knew we weren't just carrying the Colorado state flag, we had the prayers and healing wishes of our entire state with us.
Our first stop was Atchison, Kansas, the birthplace of aviatrix and charter Ninety-Nine Amelia Earhart. A fanfare of patriotic music and children waving flags greeted us as we taxied to parking. They presented us with a wonderful program and read poems they had written about 9/11. It touched our hearts. Again, children-entrusted cache of cards and letters for the people of New York was worth refiguring the weight and balance. Fellow Ninety-Nine Tracy Leonard invited us to stay with her and her sweetheart, Matthew. They spoiled us with a fabulous home cooked dinner, sack breakfasts AND lunches to take with us!
The next morning we continued on to Dayton, thoughtfully munching our in-flight meals, happy and proud to be the messengers of the children's hopes and prayers. In Dayton, we stayed with the Ohio flag bearer and his wife, Vince and Marcy Corrado, and to our delight, met once again with local school children.
Over the next two days in Somerset, Pennsylvania, we were joined by 30 other flag bearers, all gathering to lay a wreath at the memorial site honoring all the heroes of United Airlines Flight 93. We were not only honoring the memory of the brave passengers and crew, but celebrating their spirit as well. It was that spirit that inspired all of us to make this flight, carrying our flags to reaffirm that the skies over all of America belong to Americans. It was heartwarming to see so many of the other flag bearers; it was the first time most of us had ever met, yet we made instant friends.
The next morning, 31 aircraft lifted off from Somerset, destined for Frederick, Maryland. Ten new flag bearers joined up and it became clear a powerful force was building. After tying down the aircraft, a bus carried us to the Pentagon, where we laid flowers at the site in a ceremony honoring victims of American Airlines Flight 11. We toured the Pentagon, pausing several times to remember the events of last year, and marveling at the display of historical military art. AOPA hosted a wonderful lunch and we stayed with former Colorado Ninety-Nine Julie Boatman, an editor for AOPA magazine.
The next day airplanes from all fifty states, except one, descended on Caldwell, New Jersey, and received a wonderful reception from The Ninety-Nines. Unfortunately, Nancy and I missed the Caldwell trip, as "Mr. Murphy" played havoc with our VHF antenna, requiring a stay and outlay of cash before we could continue on.
Sunday morning culminated the months of planning, preparation and flight. It was both a humbling and inspiring sight when 51 pilots from each of the 50 states and Puerto Rico took off and flew in a procession down the Hudson River as part of the Honor Flight. It was a beautiful day, and the city was breathtaking. We saw both ground zero and the statue of liberty from our vantage point of 1,000 feet above the river. Carrying our flag in the back, I knew I was part of something truly meaningful, an aerial display of solidarity and remembrance.
That afternoon, we gathered together again, this time in a ceremony on the deck of the USS Intrepid, to present our flags to the City of New York in remembrance of those who died and in admiration of those who carry on. Erik Lindbergh, grandson of aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh, spoke about the spirit of "Flight Across America," and praised organizer Molly Peebles for her vision. We also learned the Federal Aviation Administration, in remembrance, re-named three aeronautical waypoints over New York. Now, waypoints "Heroes," "Finest," and "Bravest" will be used by all commercial pilots going in and out of New York.
Now, as I prepare to lay down my pen and look back, I remember most vividly looking around the deck of the Intrepid that Sunday. Molly stood on the stage as we created a circle of colorful strength with our flags. She had done it. She had inspired the nation and brought us together with the passion we have for flight. What had been used as a weapon against us was again a powerful symbol of a freedom we hold dear. This mission had paid a special tribute to those lost on 9/11, but we also reaffirmed the freedom and the power of flight in America. Less than a week prior, pilots from all across our great nation came together as strangers and we left as close friends. We came together and became part of the healing process. We educated those who thought that flight was something to be feared, and hopefully opened the skies to many future pilots.
North Jersey Chapter Hosts Flight Across America Participants
By Marilyn Patierno
North Jersey Chapter
Saturday, September 7th, was a great day at Caldwell Airport, NJ. It was the day that airplanes from 50 states arrived, each with its state flag, far the Flight Across America. The weather was spectacular, what we pilots so fondly call "Severe Clear," with the altimeter sitting at 30.27.
On the evening before, Mary Sullivan and our Chapter coordinated the preparation for these planes. We stuffed "goodie bags" to the brink of making many planes consider working on their weight and balance again. The bags were filled with wonderful donations from all over New Jersey. Tables were set up in the C&W hangar for lunch at noon and entertainment at 1:00 pm.
As the planes arrived, they affixed the state flag to the propeller of each plane. Unfortunately, I was busy and didn't get to my camera until a few hours later when the flags were removed. The planes were impounded overnight for protection for the special flight down the Hudson River on Sunday morning. Molly Peebles of Redmond, WA, the person responsible for the project, arrived with her three children. Molly is newly divorced and a new pilot. She did an amazing job.
Sue Laricchio, the New Jersey coordinator and North Jersey 99, wrote the song, "Into the Wind," a theme song for Flight Across America. The song was on sale that day and was previewed for the first time by all who attended. A professional singer belted it out to everyone's applause. I was particularly proud because I followed Sue from the completion of the music four years ago; this was the perfect time for its debut.
Our North Jersey Chapter works well together and gets involved in the most interesting projects. It's an honor to be apart of such a wonderful organization.
We joined together as pilots to inspire the nation. We reclaimed our skies, reaffirming the legacy from which we come and demonstrating the passion we have for this miraculous thing we call "flight".