Monday, February 2, 2009

Pilot for a day: 303rd Fighter Squadron helps dream come true

by Staff Sgt. Kent Kagarise
442nd Fighter Wing

2/1/2009 - WHITEMAN AIR FORCE BASE, Mo. -- Many people set goals for their lives but there are some who know from the day they're born that there are dreams they may never be able to achieve but dare to dream anyway, without regard to the obstacles.

Such is the case of Wyatt Maurer, a tall, 13-year-old young man from Lawrence Kan., who was diagnosed before he was born with chronic kidney failure, a condition which led to surgery when he was only six-days-old.

Today, Wyatt has one functioning kidney with the other operating at 90 percent. He will most likely need a transplant in the near future. Yet the wide-eyed teen has looked to the skies since he was four years old and planned to fly through those skies on the wings of the U.S. Air Force.

Jan. 11, Wyatt visited the 303rd Fighter Squadron with the help of Heather McGinnis, Director of Volunteers for the Greater Kansas City chapter of Dream Factory, a non-profit organization of volunteers that help children who are seriously and chronically ill realize at least a part of their dreams.

With the help of Dream Factory, Wyatt was able to get a sense of what it was like to be an A-10 pilot for one day as he "flew" the 303rd's A-10 Thunderbolt II simulator, sat in an actual A-10, received a personal tour of the squadron's operations and checked out a Whiteman Air Force Base T-38 Talon up close.

"It's always really great to see a child's face light up," Ms. McGinnis said. "Most of the dreams we try to make come true center around travel. To actually be able to bring Wyatt this close to reality is unbelievable."

The Dream Factory contacted Maj. David Willette, an Army AH-64 Apache pilot, currently based at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., to begin the process of bringing Wyatt's dreams to fruition.

"I contacted a few of my Air Force peers and asked if they had any contacts," Major Willette said. "The day after I began asking around I got 20 e-mails from guys who knew pilots with the 303rd. Just like that - it was done."

"We couldn't have done it without Maj. Willete," Ms. McGinnis said.

The planning for Wyatt's day with the 303rd FS began in Oct. 2008 and as time drew near for this day, Wyatt's anxiety grew higher.

"He hasn't had a full night's sleep for about two weeks," said Mrs. Stephanie Maurer, Wyatt's mother. "He has been so excited. It really has gone beyond any expectations we've had."

Wyatt's day began in the 303rd's life-support ready room with Capt. Chad Rogers, a 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot, detailing what a pilot's day is like and explaining the uses for all of the equipment the squadron's pilots must wear in flight. From there the teen and his parents went into the flight simulator where Wyatt was able to get a glimpse of what it's like to fly an A-10.

"It was awesome! The resistance was a little surprising as I steered," Wyatt said. "But it wasn't much different from my Playstation-2 flying games."

His video game flying experience was evident in his very smooth landing of the A-10 in the simulator. "Good job! You're a natural Wyatt!" Mrs. Maurer said.

After dropping bombs and shooting 30-millimeter cannon rounds in the simulator, Wyatt experienced an actual A-10 and was able to get up close and personal by sitting in the pilot's seat while Capt. Rogers explained the controls and instruments.

"There were a lot of gadgets in there," Wyatt said. "That part was much different than my P.S. 2."

The tour of the A-10 was followed by lunch at the Base Exchange where Wyatt was quite an attention-getter wearing his 303rd-issued flight suit complete with patches and a 442nd Fighter Wing name tag.

"Gosh, do you see all of them looking at me?" Wyatt said to his father, Mr. Andrew Maurer.

"They must think you're a new pilot, being brought into the Air Force under some new top-secret plan," Mr. Maurer said.

Lunch concluded with a group of A-10 pilots who answered questions from the young, aspiring pilot and had their picture taken with him.

"That was so cool! I want to be one of them," Wyatt said.

Capt. Rogers and the other pilots were able to impart some words of wisdom to Wyatt before his, "pilot for a day" came to an end all too soon.

"He's hopeful, as he should be. He's a good kid," said Capt. Rogers, who organized Wyatt's visit to the 303rd. "I told him to set himself up for success through education and physical fitness. Succeed in every way you can. If you have a strong enough will - it's possible."

Those were wise words from a pilot to a young man facing some very tall hurdles, and very good advice for any Airman striving to achieve their goals without such an intimidating obstacle.


Thirteen-year-old Wyatt Maurer, asks a question to Capt. Chad Rogers, 303rd Fighter Squadron A-10 pilot, while at the controls of the squadron's A-10 Thunderbolt II simulator during his "pilot for a day" experience at Whiteman AFB on January 11th, 2009. Not only was Wyatt treated to a simulator "ride" but also received a tour of an actual A-10 and a day in the life of an A-10 pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Maj. David Kurle) Hi-res

No comments:

Post a Comment