Pilot for a Day
Published August 20, 2007
The original "Pilot for a Day" program began in December of 1994, organized by Captain Rory "Ox" Blackburn at Randolph AFB, Texas. The concept has since spread to several bases across the country. The program focuses on children who have serious or chronic conditions that have robbed them of some of the joy of their childhood. Davis-Monthan Air Force Base's "Pilot for a Day" program invites these children of all ages, military or civilian, to be a guest of the 355th Wing and one of Davis-Monthan's flying squadrons for an entire day. In so doing, we strive to give each child a special day and a break from whatever challenges they may face.
The day begins with a brief "swearing in" ceremony at the host flying squadron after which the child becomes an "honorary United States Air Force pilot". A host pilot serves as the child's wingman for the day, answering questions and ensuring our guest (and family) has a day to remember. The host pilot will provide a tour of the squadron to include videos and an aircraft capability/mission briefing. Afterwards, the group gets to visit real fighter and transport aircraft, and sit in the cockpits for an orientation by their host pilot.
Following a static display and a flightline tour where the "pilot" will get a chance to sit in and take pictures with the different aircraft assigned to Davis-Monthan, the "pilot", host, and family will proceed to the operational support squadron where they will receive a briefing and hands on demonstration of the equipment which helps sustain our pilots in the event of ejection from an aircraft. This will include a flight in a virtual reality parachute trainer to see what it is like to fly under canopy while still remaining on the ground. Following this, the tour proceeds to the A-10 simulator where the "pilot" will have a chance to fly the mighty A-10.
After his/her flying experience, the group will proceed back to the host squadron for a breather and lunch with the rest of the squadron members. After a breather in the squadron, the "pilot" will have a chance to visit the Air Traffic Control facilities on base and see what it is like to control aircraft from a dark room looking at radar screens. Following the ATC tour, the group will move to the Control Tower. At the control tower the "pilot" will have a chance to see what airfield operations look like from ten stories up. The "pilot" will have a chance to interact with tower controllers, observe takeoff and landings from outside on the catwalk, and have a chance to clear aircraft for takeoff and/or landing.
Upon completion of their "training", the honorary pilot reports to the Wing Commander during a Wing Commander's Call for a report on their visit to Davis-Monthan AFB. Each guest leaves with patches, souvenirs, and memories to help sustain them in the face of their personal challenges.
The child, parents, and guests are then escorted to the front gate and receive a final "Desert Lightning" salute. The men and women of the 355th Wing are proud to offer this program, and greatly enjoy the company of the children who come to visit us. It is a privilege and an honor for us to be able to offer these young heroes a chance to experience life as a "Pilot for a Day". May God bless those that fly!
If you know of a child who could benefit from this program, please call the 355th Wing Public Affairs office at 520-228-3399.