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Retiring Guard Pilot Takes Chinook On ‘Farewell Flight’ Over Kingdom TownsSpectators Below Include Mom, Peggy Pearl, In St. Johnsbury, And Daughter, Molly, In Danville

[Story by Dana Gray from The Caledonian Record]

ST. JOHNSBURY — Spinning tandem rotors carried a Chinook helicopter overhead on Wednesday as its retiring Army National Guard pilot wanted to give homage to his roots while buzzing low enough for family and friends to witness his flyover.

Nicholas Daniels, a warrant officer, will retire in January. He was authorized to take the farewell flight of his choice. He chose a path that took him over his hometown of Ryegate, the St. Johnsbury History & Heritage Center, where his mom, Peggy Pearl, serves as executive director, and the Danville School, where his 13-year-old daughter, Molly, is a student.

Pearl was joined by History & Heritage Center volunteers outside the center on Summer Street on Wednesday afternoon to look toward the clear blue sky and listen for the churn of the rotors.

“Hear that? He’s coming,” said Pearl a few minutes before 2 p.m. Seconds later, the helicopter appeared in the sky south of St. Johnsbury and stayed on a course that took it directly over the History & Heritage Center. The people below waved and cheered, and Pearl tried to simultaneously wave and take photos.

The flyover was brief as Daniels kept the Chinook on a slow but steady course over the region.

“I will say this, for a one-time pass, he came pretty damn close to us,” said Pearl.

Afterward, the small gathering at the History & Heritage expressed appreciation they could witness Daniels’ flight.

It was a proud moment for Pearl. “It’s emotional,” she said. “You just kind of fill up.”

Daniels, 45, graduated from Blue Mountain Union School in 1996. He entered the military and served his initial enlistment period. He then went to Lyndon State College before returning to the military. It was then that he pursued flight training.

His service took him to Iraq and Afghanistan. Pearl said she kept candles burning in his childhood bedroom until he safely returned from the war zones.

Daniels lives in Mechanicsburg, Pa. with his wife and two daughters. His flight on Wednesday began at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania.

His arrival over towns in the Northeast Kingdom was later than initially thought. His start was delayed, and there was a need to refuel in Connecticut. In the end, for Pearl and others, it was worth the wait.

Speaking with a mother’s heart, Pearl said, “Sometimes I could just throttle him, but not today.”

A helicopter flying overhead in St. Johnsbury is not unusual as a DHART helicopter often comes to the area for medical transfers and emergencies, but a Chinook overhead is a rare sight.

Its tandem rotors are a distinctive feature, and a Chinook is large, boasting heavy lift capacity.

After passing overhead, the helicopter banked to the west for its flight over Danville where more family watched, including Aunt Liz Sargent.

Three years ago, his daughter, Molly, a Danville student, made a special connection with her dad’s Guard unit by making masks for members to wear during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a member of the Girl Scout Junior program, she earned the Bronze Award with the mask project. With guidance and sewing support from her grandmother, Dianne Langmaid, of Danville, Molly crafted 78 masks, 30 of which went to her father and other Guard members.

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