'We were the first': Centennial flight celebrates 100 years of Minnesota Air National Guard

Crystal Bui
Updated: September 26, 2020 11:26 PM
Created: September 26, 2020 10:54 PM

It’s a ceremony 100 years in the making.

At exactly 11:50 a.m. above Curtiss Field in Falcon Heights, a commencement ceremony for the 133rd Airlift Wing that left Minnesota, crossing half of the United States to lobby for the formation of the flying squadron in Washington, D.C., in 1921.

Their successful flight created the Air National Guard. 

“You just kind of quit breathing for a moment and look up and say, ‘Oh my gosh, look, there it is,’” said Falcon Heights resident Melanie Leehy.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS was on board that historic centennial flight. 

“I'm part of the squadron that we're celebrating today, so it's actually pretty exciting to be here and to see the flyover. My son was super excited seeing the flyover,” said Capt. Brennan Coatney, pilot in 109th Airlift Squadron.

“It's a shared history, and the most important piece of this is, we were the first,” said Minnesota Air National Guard Chief of Staff Brig. Gen. Dan Gabrielli. “We were the first federally-recognized flying unit in the National Guard for the whole nation. And it took three real pioneer aviators with a lot of gumption to go fly on a seven-day journey, which was less than 17 years after Kitty Hawk. That was not a small thing to fly out of DC to get federal recognition.” 

The moment was watched by dozens at Curtiss Field.

“Our history is a shared history with the people of Minnesota, and on this patch of land that's populated by residents recently, there was a lot of history here by some real pioneers who took a lot of risk,” Gabrielli said.

Melanie Leehy lives in the neighborhood.

“Once we moved in, we learned this is Curtiss Field! This is the first airport of Minnesota, and for the NationalGuard in the United States of America,” Leehy said. 

The 133rd Airlift Wing is now home to the 109th Airlift Squadron. It’s now based out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

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