OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Chase Walker’s eyes will be glued to the sky as more than two dozen small planes descend Saturday on Old Orchard Beach, landing along the same sandy stretch where Charles Lindbergh once famously touched down in his plane.

“For the first plane, I’ll be biting my nails,” Walker said. “When it lands, I’ll feel better.”

It will be the first time in decades that Old Orchard Beach has been used as a landing strip for small planes. The fly-in, organized by 15-year-old Walker, commemorates the 90th anniversary of Lindbergh’s unexpected landing on the beach in the Spirit of St. Louis on July 24, 1927.

The Wings 4 Wishes fly-in, featuring 34 pilots landing small planes on the east side of The Pier, has been more than a year and a half in the making.

As an eighth-grader, Walker went to Camp Kieve in Nobleboro, where he learned about leadership skills and started thinking about ways to give back to the community where he has grown up. Around the same time, he saw a “60 Minutes” special on the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Back in Old Orchard Beach, he decided to incorporate his own love for flying and the town’s rich aviation history to raise money for the foundation’s Maine chapter.

“We have a huge aviation history here in Old Orchard Beach, with planes landing on the beach in the 1920s,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not re-create it?’ ”

THE FLY-IN IDEA TAKES OFF

Walker first mentioned his idea for a fly-in to commemorate Lindbergh’s landing to Nikki MacDonald, his eighth-grade language arts teacher at Loranger Middle School. She suggested that Walker talk to her sister, Sharri MacDonald, the president of OOB365. The group of volunteers promotes events in the town year-round and has put on more than 20 festivals.

“She liked the idea and told me to get five pilots, come back and we’ll talk,” Walker said.

Harry Jones, operator of a flying service in Old Orchard Beach from 1919 to 1930, points something out to Charles Lindbergh, center-right with a hand in his pocket, in July 1927. On the right is a reporter from the New York Daily Mirror, and on the left is a local police officer. Photo courtesy of the Harmon Museum

After finding the first five pilots who wanted to be part of the fly-in, Walker and Sharri MacDonald sought town approval to host the unusual event. The process involved meetings with the town manager, a vote by the Town Council to approve a special events permit, and checking with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and Federal Aviation Administration about potential concerns.

As plans for the event moved forward, excitement about the fly-in picked up around town. The Libby Memorial Library put up a display of historical photos from the Old Orchard Beach Historical Society, and also planned a series of events to highlight Lindbergh’s landing and the other planes that touched down on Old Orchard Beach in the 1920s and 1930s.

HOW LINDBERGH ENDED UP IN OOB

The story of Lindbergh’s landing is familiar to many in the area, but few people may know why Lucky Lindy came to stop in town during the first leg of his 48-state victory tour after his historic trans-Atlantic flight between New York and Paris.

“We have a rich aviation history,” said Dan Blaney, the town historian. “It was Harry Martin Jones who got it all started.”

After his historic trans-Atlantic flight, Charles Lindbergh was headed for the Portland airport on July 24, 1927, as part of his victory tour when fog forced him to find another landing spot. He was aware of a hangar in Old Orchard Beach and landed on the sand nearby. Photo courtesy of Harmon Museum

Harry Jones, a pioneer aviator, had a hangar at Old Orchard Beach from 1919 to 1930, near the natural landing strip that appeared at low tide. For years, Jones offered $5, 25-minute plane tours of the area, flying over Prouts Neck to the delight of his passengers.

“He was said to have taken up over 100,000 people,” Blaney said. “He was a staple here in Old Orchard Beach.”

On July 24, 1927, Lindbergh left Concord, New Hampshire, in the Spirit of St. Louis, bound for the Portland airport as part of his victory tour. But when Lindbergh and the pilot of the guide plane accompanying him arrived over Maine, they were disoriented by heavy fog. The guide plane pilot landed in an open field in Dayton. The Portland airport – which back then was near the marsh in Scarborough – wasn’t visible to Lindbergh.

“Lindbergh had an idea where Harry Jones’ hangar was in Old Orchard Beach, so he flew over and decided to land here,” Blaney said. “The biggest hero in the United States landed right here in Old Orchard.”

The Maine governor, a contingent of dignitaries and Harry Jones himself were in Scarborough waiting for Lindbergh’s arrival. Left behind at the hangar in Old Orchard Beach was head mechanic Joe Snow, who would later tell Blaney he wasn’t happy about missing the ceremony for Lindbergh in Portland.

Chase Walker 15, on the beach in Old Orchard Beach near the site of a special event he organized to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the day Charles Lindbergh landed on Old Orchard Beach. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

So when the history-making pilot landed unexpectedly in front of him, Snow “wanted to bask in the glory of being the first in the state to see Charles Lindbergh,” Blaney said. After visiting with the famed pilot for a few minutes, Snow finally alerted officials about Lindy’s location. Maine State Police headed to Old Orchard Beach to pick him up and bring him to the Eastland Hotel in Portland for a dinner and ceremony.

The Spirit of St. Louis was stored overnight in Jones’ hangar, guarded by state and local police. Lindbergh departed the following day for the next stop on his tour.

Jones used the occasion to get the word out to the country’s aviation community that Old Orchard Beach was a much better spot for trans-Atlantic takeoffs than New York, the traditional takeoff point. Between 1927 and 1939, Old Orchard Beach was the scene of eight trans-Atlantic takeoffs.

ON A MISSION FOR MAKE-A-WISH

In 1977, the 50th anniversary of Lindbergh’s touch-down was marked with a beach landing of a replica of the Spirit of St. Louis. Three years later, a fly-in similar to the one organized by Chase took place on the beach.

Walker – who took his first flight at 2 months old and aspires to be a Delta Air Lines pilot – is hoping to turn the fly-in into an annual event. But first, he’d like to raise at least $7,000 for Make-A-Wish, the cost to grant a wish to one Maine child.

Walker said the event has already raised $3,300 through sponsorships, including $2,000 from Pate Motors of Biddeford. Richard Pate plans to land his Kolb Finestar ultralight on the beach during the fly-in.

Planes will begin landing at 10:30 a.m. this Saturday, Sept. 30, and depart before 2 p.m. While the planes are on the beach, visitors can talk to the pilots and have their portraits taken with the planes to raise money for Make-A-Wish. The Downeasters Chorus barbershop quartet will play on the beach after the planes take off and will be introduced by Gavin Gibbs, a teenager from Arkansas who received a wish from the foundation.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

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