|Air Squadron Officers|
|Tom Bessert||First Vice-President|
|Steve Porter||Second Vice-President|
|Chuck Slater||Parade Chairman|
You may have been to a parade in Northern Illinois, watched six miniature F-16 fighter jets racing up and down the street and wondered, “Who are these guys?” and, more importantly, “How can I get a chance to ‘fly’ one of those things?”
First, “these guys” are called pilots, and they are Shriners. To become a pilot, you must first become a Master Mason, then join the Shrine, and then be selected by the Air Squadron to join the group. After some training, a little practice, and a commitment to be away from your family for a few hours on the weekend, you too can be a pilot.
Second, the jets are made of fiberglass, mounted on Kawasaki 3-wheel ATV’s. They are miniature replicas of the famed U.S. Air Force “Thunderbirds.” While they do not actually fly, (yes we are frequently asked that question) they are exciting to drive!
Third, we have a history, and a mission. Back in 1970 a group of active pilots and associated non-pilots within the Shrine got together and formed a club to provide air transportation for burned children to any of the three (at that time) Shrine Burn Centers in the United States. They flew numerous children who had suffered critical burns and needed restorative treatment to these hospitals at no charge. With flights costing anywhere from $2000 to $5000 each by the mid-80’s, the Air squadron was looking for a novel way to cover these costs. The late Tom Davig designed the replica F-16’s and had them built. Soon, six of the jets were in action: the same six that you see in parades today.
Now the Air Squadron performs at 20-30 parades per year to help support the Shriner’s Hospital for Children-Chicago and the Transportation Fund at Tebala Shrine. While “flying” the planes in a parade is fun, the members get the most satisfaction from a parent along the parade route yelling, “Hey Shriners! Thank you for helping my child!”