Thousands help Selfridge Air Base celebrate its 100th

Louis Aguilar, and Mike Martindale

Harrison Township — Under a cloudless blue sky, tens of thousands flocked to Selfridge Air National Guard Base on Sunday to celebrate the facility’s 100th anniversary.

An afternoon air show featured the Jenny, the first plane to fly out of Selfridge in the summer of 1917 and the new generation of the F-35 Lightning II, the fighter jet that base officials hope becomes a part of Selfridge’s future. The air show delighted the crowd full of families and veterans who also came to roam amid dozens of historical war planes as well as state-of-the-art aircraft.

“You really can’t help but be proud and in awe,’’ said Chase Bianchi, 36, of St. Clair Shores as she posed in front of the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy, one of the largest military aircraft in the world, with her infant daughter. Bianchi and her husband, Thomas, said they both had parents who were military veterans and they came to the air show partly to honor them.

“The base is Michigan’s only active base and one of three in the nation to have operated this long,” said Brig. Gen. John D Slocum, Commander 127th Wing, Selfridge ANGB. “I like to think Selfridge’s best years are still ahead and we are happy to be able to celebrate this with the public.”

The 127th Wing flies both A-10 and KC-135 aircraft out of Selfridge. The base boasts operations of the U.S. Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard, Homeland Security and 44 private organizations. Nearly 4500 Active, Guard, and Reserve military and civilian personnel are based out of Selfridge.

Slocum hopes soon to be announcing the F-35 Lightning II will be stored, maintained and trained on at Selfridge. Selfridge was recently visited by a national review team, which is expected to announce its selection in the coming weeks, Slocum said.

In 1917, auto pioneer Henry Joy, president of the former Packard Motor Car Co., leased the rural Macomb County airfield to the military to train pilots and the military has operated the field since. The base's namesake, Army Lt. Thomas Selfridge, was killed while on a demonstration flight with aviation pioneer Orville Wright.

Selfridge airmen over the decades have served in every war and battle, with deployments all over the world. The base has been a springboard for more than 145 officers who made the rank of general and its lineage includes the famed Tuskegee Airmen, an all African-American unit of who fought in World War II, and Capt. Eddie Rickenbacker, a fighter ace pilot in World War I.

Twitter: @LouisAguilar _DN