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Young or old, the Nebraska State Fly-In offered something for everyone – from free flights to give kids their first taste of aviation to the recognition of Dawes County’s own 17 World War II veterans.

The Chadron Municipal Airport was selected as the host site for the 26th annual fly-in by the Nebraska Aviation Council nearly two years ago, and all of the planning undertaken since then culminated over the weekend with a State Fly-In featuring aircraft and activities of all types.

“I think it was amazing,” said Terri Haynes, who helped organize the event. “I am over the moon with how well everything went.”

The event was manned mostly by volunteers, all of whom came through, to take tickets, sell water and souvenirs and keep the crowds safe as aircraft took off and landed.

“You guys have put on a fantastic 26th State Fly-In,” said Diane Bartels, a member of the Nebraska Aviation Council during the public presentation of a plaque to the city.

Three key events attracted the biggest crowds: Friday night’s dinner and USO-style show, the Saturday afternoon air show and the Saturday evening recognition of local World War II veterans.

The kick-off event – Friday’s dinner and show – in the historic barrel hanger was presented to a near-capacity crowd of 300 and included an evening of entertainment by The Potter Family. The four-member ensemble performed a variety of hits from across the decades, inspiring couples to hit the dance floor frequently.

As planes began to arrive Saturday morning, the crowds trickled in, enjoying breakfast and a stroll around the tarmac to inspect the aircraft up close.

After lunch, three pilots put on an aerial demonstration that drew hundreds to the airport in anticipation. Tom Larkin, Doug Roth and Kurt Muhle took to the skies, performing aerial maneuvers.

“It’s so much fun to do and a great way to promote aviation,” said Roth, while working on his Staudacher Superstar Saturday morning. He’s been performing in aerobatic competitions for more than two decades. His Staudacher is one of only three, designed to compete with the Russian Sukois and German Extra planes in the Unlimited World Competition.

Larkin’s SubSonex Mini Jet drew plenty of attention as well, weighing in at only 500 pounds but with a top speed of 300 mph. He performed a variety of maneuvers he used flying in the Air Force.

Muhle’s appearance featured his 1941 Vultee BT-13, one of only about 30 still flying. The planes were used as training aircraft during World War II.

His plane was a unique addition to the fly-in, as it was hosted at an airport constructed on the brink of World War II to train civilian pilots and fit nicely with the recognition of several World War II veterans later in the day. Mayor John Coates served as master of ceremony for the event, again in front of a near-capacity crowd in the WWII-era barrel hangar. Sixteen of the 17 veterans who were recognized were able to attend, receiving a standing ovation at the end of the program, as well as handshakes and hugs from most of the crowd.

The WWII ceremony was followed by two inductions into the Nebraska Aviation Hall of Fame. James Joyce and Richard Trail were both recognized for their contributions to the field of aviation.

Joyce served as an aircraft mechanic in his native Iowa before accepting a position at the Western Nebraska Vocational Technical School in Sidney in the aviation maintenance department in 1969. He retired in 2006 after 36 years of service. He also served on the Sidney Airport Authority, helping to repave the main runway at the Sidney Airport and add a 22,000 gallon fuel farm to the facilities, and was instrumental in building a new aviation maintenance facility.

“James E. Joyce is an aircraft mechanic, but first and foremost he is an educator. His sense of humor and watchful eye made him an excellent instructor. Jim’s willingness to share his wealth of knowledge made learning exciting and fun. It’s impossible to know for sure but without a doubt he taught well over 1,000 mechanics, leaving a lasting impression on those that had the pleasure of studying with him,” said Jon Leever, an instructor at Western Nebraska Community College, who introduced Joyce.

Trail, a McCook native, was the first native Nebraskan to be appointed to the Air Force Academy. He learned to fly in 1953 and spent 450 days flying more than 200 sorties in Vietnam. He was also a member of the crew on an Air Force tanker that refueled a Navy plane for the first time in history.

Aside from the highlighted events, the State Fly-In also featured several speakers throughout the day, more than one of whom made it clear that flying is a passion.

“For some of us, we get the bug early, and we never get rid of it,” said Jeff Robbins, who has been a pilot for 20 years and also serves as a flight instructor. “There’s a freedom there that is very difficult to explain. I’ve never met anyone who got their pilot’s license and regretted it.”

Jason Sandoz, a commercial pilot for Atlas, said flying is a great way to see the world – even if it means flying into Afghanistan with no lights on the plane or the runway until the last 50 feet in order to avoid small arms and mortar fire.

Opportunities abound in aviation, the speakers noted, with careers ranging from crop dusting and other agricultural applications to the military, carrier and cargo aircraft, firefighting and medivac work, border patrol and operating sightseeing aircraft.

The best piece of advice Sandoz could offer to aspiring pilots: “Start.”

While pilots were taking off and landing – including planes giving many kids their first airplane ride – Jane Ramm of Chadron took advantage of the fly-in to mark one of her bucket-list items as done. She took off in one of those aircraft, only to jump out of it in a tandem sky-dive.

As she returned to the hangar, she flashed a smile and a thumbs-up to the crowd who had waited safely on the ground for her.

“It was great,” she said. While the initial jump was a bit overwhelming, “Once the chute was open, you’re just gliding down.”

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