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Chesapeake island holiday tradition continuesChesapeake island holiday tradition continues

Pilots fly in holiday cheer for 49 yearsPilots fly in holiday cheer for 49 years

Where the Pocomoke and Tangier Sounds meet in Virginia's Chesapeake Bay sits a small and shrinking island. Visitors usually arrive at Tangier Island by boat, but for the annual Holly Run in December, pilots and Santa ditch reindeer for more horsepower and arrive via airplane.

The first Holly Run began in 1968 when Ed Nabb, a military veteran and prominent lawyer in Cambridge, Maryland, realized the island had no holly trees. Using his Ercoupe, Nabb set out to deliver holiday cheer by flying in sprigs of the festive foliage from the mainland.

In the years since, the event has grown, and on Dec. 2, 44 aircraft participated in the latest Holly Run.

This year, in addition to arriving with holly, pilots raised almost $6,000 for underprivileged island families, delivered art supplies to the local school, and added a new element of helping to rescue some of the many island cats. In total, pilots flew 16 cats to their new off-island homes, and 150 more cats (and all the island dogs except one) were spayed or neutered.

Nabb’s son, Ed Nabb Jr., attended the event and told AOPA, “It started as one airplane taking a couple bags of holly down to some friend on Tangier island, from there it has grown to what you see now.”

One of the many island cats leaps from its perch on a chair in front of Lorraine's restaurant. Photo by Joe Kildea.

Nabb said the Ercoupe that flew the first Holly Run is still in his family with his brother in North Carolina.

Today, the event is managed by Helen Woods of Chesapeake Sport Pilot, who said, “It's a really wonderful holiday tradition. The details have evolved over the years but the spirit remains the same.”

Pilots gathered in the morning at Bay Bridge Airport in Stevensville, Maryland, to pick up bags of holly, participate in a safety briefing, and enjoy a pancake breakfast sponsored by Van’s Aircraft. From there, pilots departed for the flight down the Delmarva Peninsula to Tangier Island.

Two of those pilots were Santa and Mrs. Claus, known as Ralph and Laura Hoover for the rest of the year, flying in their RV-7A under the call sign Rudolph 1. The Hoovers both fly under BasicMed, the new alternative medical certification.

After pilots and passengers arrived at the island and delivered the holly and supplies, they fanned out to explore. Most ended up at Lorraine’s for their specialty, crabcakes.

Jamie Parks, daughter of the founder of Lorraine’s, served pilots their lunch and said, “We look forward to this every year, it brings us a lot of income, and it’s nice what they do for the island.”

Michael Bush flew his Cirrus SR22TN from Williamsport Regional Airport in Pennsylvania. Although this was Bush’s first Holly Run, he has been to the island on numerous occasions and recommended visitors check out the island’s museum, which he called a “hidden gem.”

Santa arrives at Tangier Island for the Holly Run. Photo by Joe Kildea.
Joe Kildea

Joe Kildea

AOPA Senior Director of Communications
Joe is a student pilot and his first solo flight was at AOPA’s home airport in Frederick, Maryland. Before joining AOPA in 2015, he worked for numerous political campaigns, news organizations, and the White House Press Office.
Topics: Pilots, Events

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