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Pilot for a Day: Airmen provide 11-year-old unforgettable experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Madeline Baisey
  • 375th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs

Eleven-year-old Avery Propst’s hand reaches up, with eyes wide, taking in the overwhelmingly large room in front of him. He stands there wearing an identical green flight suit to the man next to him who begins to explain the purpose of the large piece of machinery.

“That bud … is what we call a C-21, and we use it to move important people around,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Szmajda, 375th Operations Group special projects officer, and the tour guide for Scott Air Force Base’s Pilot for a Day visit Feb. 24.

The Pilot for a Day program was started and funded by Check-6, where a child is selected by the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, DC. They’re then invited to become a “pilot” for a day. The program was created revolving around the child’s dream and interest in aviation.

Avery, a 5th grader from Hartburg, MO., lost his leg in an accident when he was two. But, like other kids his age, he loves to play baseball and football. He also has a unique love for aviation. And, thanks to various units across the base, they gave Avery the experience of a lifetime.

Avery spent the entire day exploring what Scott has to offer. He said his favorite spot was the 375th Security Forces Squadron military working dog kennels. Despite the dogs being significantly bigger and stronger, Avery wasn’t scared, as they reminded him of his Great Dane, Stella.

“I just love playing with dogs, even though we couldn’t play with them, I just love dogs,” explained Avery, on his private shuttle from the 375th Logistics Readiness Squadron, which acted as his own limousine for the day.

Avery then climbed 300 feet above Scott, to where the air traffic controllers work in the base's control tower. There he got to flash a light gun on the flightline, call in his own commands to pilots, and look through binoculars at nearby aircraft.

For his lunch, the 54th Airlift Squadron catered Avery and his family inside a C-40C.

Later, Avery experienced the hard work that makes an aircraft fly, while laying in the back of a KC-135 Stratotanker. There he met with two Air National Guard members, who showed him the cockpit as well and how the refueling process works in a real scenario.

Avery and his family then met with George Onyenyeonwu, Check-6 foundation vice president, at the 906th Air Refueling Wing hangar where he got the rare chance to try out the KC-135 simulator.

“It was like a video game, but I went too fast and crashed it only one time,” Avery explained, laughing about his experience in the simulator. While in the simulator, Avery flew straight toward where his favorite football team, the Kansas City Chiefs, plays every Sunday.

Earlier that morning, Avery met with Col. Vincent Livie, another Chiefs fan and the 375th OG/CC who shared the experience of a call in from Christian Okoye, former Chiefs running back.

Wrapping up the tour, Avery said that he would one day want to become a pilot. Check-6 awarded Avery a medal of courage, along with a multitude of unit badges collected throughout the day.

Due to all of the work and coordination put in from the Check-6 foundation and Airmen behind the scenes, this day was made possible for Avery.