z7By Rabbi Yair Hoffman

It’s a bird!

It’s a plane!

No, it’s a number of planes!

And they are flying in formation over Manhattan in a remarkable salute-to-Israel flyover this Sunday, June 2, to coincide with the Celebrate Israel Parade.

Indeed, for the past four years, the Israel Independence Day Fly-By has sparked a sense of pride among marchers.

How did it all begin?

Robert Killetti, a flight instructor in Republic Airport, launched the project in 2009, combining two loves of his life, Israel and flying. Joining him were a group of small-airplane aficionados, friends who were certified in small-aircraft flying as well as in formation flying. The pilots range in age between 18 and the mid-sixties.

“Most of us are Americans who own our own small aircraft. Some of the pilots are very experienced, but we still needed to get certified in formation flying–something that can be kind of tricky,” remarked one of pilots.

“We had our own aircraft at Republic Airport in Farmingdale and we became friends. A group kind of formed,” remarks former Israeli Air Force Lt. Colonel Alon Pereg. “Jews, Israelis, and others. We do things together. We like doing things together. He [Robert] wanted to do something for Israel Independence Day. We placed flags on the planes, and we did it.”

“Although a number of our members are jet pilots, not everyone is certified to fly small aircraft,” remarks Michael Harbater, a member of this eclectic group of pilots who is based in Far Rockaway.

Why do they do it? Because of the meaning of Israel. To these brave pilots, many of whom have piloted their way through wars, Israel means the culmination of two thousand years of tears and dreams. To others, Israel means freedom and democracy. And to others Israel means the underdog in a battle for survival. One of the pilots is the child of a Holocaust survivor and to him the flyover is especially poignant.

“Whatever Israel means to each member, it is remarkable that Israel is the only country in the world that has a flyover in Manhattan on its Independence Day,” concludes Pereg.

Alon Pereg is not just a seasoned El Al pilot and former member of the IAF. He helped formulate some of the security requirements and issues involving air space in the peace talks between Israel and Egypt, as well as Jordan and the Palestinians. “I was a guest at a number of the homes of some of the big names in Gaza,” remarks Alon, with a mischievous smile.

But is it difficult to get the necessary permits to do a flyover in Manhattan?

“Actually, not very. It is more difficult to get a commercial truck in and out of Manhattan,” remarked an Israeli pilot who participates in the flyover. He spoke to us while on layover in Brussels.

“We actually had more issues because of the New York Yankees baseball game this year than on account of security,” explains Harbater.

Who sponsors this event?

“Actually, we all pay for it ourselves. We have never even thought about finding a corporate sponsor. It costs each of us a few hundred dollars, but it is well worth it,” answers Pereg.

So when you are at the parade this Sunday, and people look up and say, “It’s a bird!” or “It’s a plane,” you will know that it is the pilots of the U.S. Israel Flying Club. In the meantime, you can read all about them on their website and blog at usilflyingclub.com. v


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