Local boy becomes 2nd D-M 'Pilot for a Day' this year
By Airman Jamie Coggan, 355th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
/ Published June 12, 2007
DAVIS-MONTHAN AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. --
Matthew Belleau, a 7-year-old Arizonan suffering from mild cerebral palsy and ataxia, toured the base June 7 as this month's participant in the Pilot for a Day program.
The purpose of the program is give local children with serious illnesses an enjoyable day completely devoted to them and their interest in aviation.
Matthew was nominated as Arizona's 2007 Champion Child, and he will also serve as Arizona's ambassador for the 17 million children who are treated at Children's Miracle Network hospitals each year. While at Tucson Medical Center for physical and occupational therapy, Matthew and his family got the opportunity to participate in the Pilot for a Day program after TMC staff recommended them to D-M officials.
Matthew was accompanied on the tour by his parents, Karen and Sean Belleau, his 4-year-old sister Elizabeth, his 11-year-old brother Andrew, along his grandma, Kathy Karl, and her boyfriend Jim Ebert.
Matthew's day started off by meeting his host pilot, 358th Fighter Squadron pilot Capt. Benjamin Fallin, at the visitors' center.
"It's great to be able to give him what will hopefully be a memorable experience and brighten his day," Captain Fallin said.
On the way to the 358th FS, Captain Fallin and Matthew pointed out all the roadside aircraft displays. Upon arrival to the squadron, he was outfitted with a new flight suit, complete with patches and a personalized name tag. After donning his new attire, Matthew watched video presentations, checked out life support gear and tried on a pair of night vision goggles.
"The pilot suit is awesome," said Mrs. Belleau. "He always dresses up in whatever he can find - he'll probably be wearing that for the next couple of days."
After finishing up at the 358th FS, Captain Fallin took Matthew and his family to see an A-10 static display, where Matthew got to ask some questions and sit in the cockpit.
Mr. Belleau said he really thought his son enjoyed checking out the aircraft. "Seeing how complex the equipment is, is fascinating, and it is a good experience for Matt," he said.
The next stop for Matthew and his family was the 55th Rescue Squadron. As soon as Matthew saw the HH-60 Pave Hawk helicopter on display, he ran up to it saying "Wow! I wanna go inside that!" He sat in the gunner's seat and pretended to shoot the gun while yelling, "Fire the gun! I'm shooting! Fire! Fire!"
The group then headed to the 355th Operations Support Squadron, where Matthew got to experience an A-10 simulator, a system that replicates flying an aircraft over a virtual map of Tucson as realistically as possible. He flew over some golf courses and buildings he recognized, then took some target practice with the A-10's Gatling gun. After stepping out of the simulator, he found it difficult to contain his excitement, jumping up and down and saying, "That was fun!"
Lunch was next on the agenda, so they traveled back to the 358th FS. After eating some pizza, they went up to the control tower for a brief tour.
Their last stop was a "debriefing" with 355th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Kent Laughbaum, who presented Matthew with a wing coin and thanked him and his family for visiting.
The Pilot for a Day program originated at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, in 1994 and has since been implemented at several other Air Force bases. Davis-Monthan hosted its first program participant in August 2000, and new program coordinators intend to organize and conduct one D-M visit per month.