When you think of fundraising events, car washes, fun runs, talent shows, or galas often come to mind. But what about a competition where you pull an 82-ton plane? An unexpected choice, yes, but luckily, also a successful one.
On Sept. 17, the 30th anniversary of the Dulles Plane Pull will take place at Washington Dulles International Airport, with hopes of raising $400,000.
The Dulles Day Festival, where the plane pull will take place, is an annual event that supports the Special Olympics. It began when Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Police wanted to create a fundraiser in their jurisdiction, which comprises the Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and the Washington Dulles International Airport. Inspired by police departments spearheading events like firetruck pulls, they decided to try a plane pull at the airport, where people could come watch an unconventional activity while helping to raise money for an important cause.
Now, the Dulles Plane Pull is a team competition to see which group can pull an airplane the fastest. The plane pull pits teams of approximately 25 people against a FedEx Airbus A320 or United Boeing 757 airplane. The participants line up along a long rope attached to their aircraft. When the starter hits the stopwatch, the teams begin pulling.
Special Olympics athletes from greater Fairfax and Loudoun areas serve as the coaches of each team. The directors of Special Olympics Virginia encourage team members to get to know their coaches and work closely with them before the day of the event.
Ellen Head, the senior director of development for Special Olympics Virginia, has been at the helm of this event since 2010. “[The Dulles Plane Pull] is my first child. It gives us the opportunity to correctly brand our organization on such a large scale and, hopefully, get people to understand that we are an organization that is about inclusion and about bringing people together, with or without disabilities,” she says.
The plane pull brings in about 15,000 people every year, and around 2,500 people each year participate in the pull itself. Each team is required to raise a minimum of $2,500 to participate, which will go toward funding Special Olympics Virginia. And with more than 400 volunteers, a sense of community and support pervades the event.
“Some people just think it’s an event at the airport, but the airport is doing this for us because they believe so much in our mission, and they have for 30 years,” Head says. “This event isn’t supposed to be seen as a county fair that the airport runs just to make money. It’s an event where 100 percent of the proceeds go back to Special Olympics Virginia, and it’s important that people know that.” Dulles Day Plane Pull: Sept. 17, Dulles International Airport