Santa Claus Ralph Hoover toted bags of holly branches to a red-and-white Van’s Aircraft RV-10 that matched the color scheme of his jolly suit at the Chesapeake Sport Pilot ramp rallying point for the flight 70 miles due south.
Evergreens don’t grow in Tangier Island’s sandy soil, and residents have long depended on outsiders arriving either by aircraft or by boat to help them with day-to-day challenges that mainlanders take for granted.
For example, there is a modern clinic on the island dedicated to the late Dr. David Nichols, a pilot who provided medical care to island residents by flying there for a number of years in either a Robinson helicopter or a Cessna Skylane.
Before the 2016 Holly Run, nearly a dozen cooks supervised by aircraft owner and pancake chef Kim Allen fueled pilots’ bellies with 18 pounds of bacon and hundreds of pancakes for the 60 good Samaritans volunteering their time.
“It’s a great community,” said Allen, who was introduced to the flight school while her husband pursued his sport pilot certificate from Chesapeake Sport Pilot Chief Flight Instructor Helen Woods.
The annual fly-out began 48 years prior when Ed Nabb flew his two-person Ercoupe from Bay Bridge Airport to the island’s quaint fishing village to spread a little joy to a place where time has seemingly stood still for decades.
On the island, a narrow road across a wooden bridge winds past Lorraine’s Seafood Restaurant, a favorite with summer vacationers. Volunteers stacked bags of holly near the white steeple of Swain Memorial United Methodist Church, where inside, the Rev. John Flood thanked pilots for their generosity during an early Christmas service.
Clear skies prevailed, though a direct 10-knot crosswind from the northwest challenged some pilots negotiating the island’s 2,425-foot-long asphalt Runway 02/20.
Woods, the event organizer, told AOPA the event “was a huge success.” In addition to the holiday greenery, pilots delivered much-needed school supplies including poster boards, notebooks, and other learning essentials.
The pilot community also raised more than $3,000 to help children on the island, Woods said.
“We came, we saw, we delivered hollies, and we drank hot cocoa,” joked Woods as she praised Santa Hoover and all of the “elves” that made the special deliveries possible.