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Today's finest teach tomorrow's pilots

Lt. Col. Kevin Huyck, 95th Figther Squadron commander explores an F-15 with C.J. a participant in the Pilot for a Day program here Tuesday

Lt. Col. Kevin Huyck, 95th Figther Squadron commander explores an F-15 with C.J., a participant in the Pilot for a Day program here Tuesday.

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Three local children, who have been diagnosed with serious illnesses, suited up and jumped into the cockpit of an F-15 fighter aircraft Tuesday as they experienced a day in the life of an Air Force fighter pilot. The 95th Fighter Squadron hosted the children and their families during the "Pilot for a Day" event here.

"Some of the highlights of the day are taking the kids on a tour around real F-15s, letting them suit up at Life Support with flight gear, and they'll then fly the same simulator as real pilots," said Lt. Col. Kevin Huyck, 95th FS commander.

The "Pilot for a Day" program originated at Randolph AFB, Texas in December 1994. The goal of the program is to offer children a chance to experience a day as a United States Air Force pilot and for a time, forget about the challenges of their everyday lives and develop new friendships with some of Tyndall's finest fliers.

"The day revolves around the children and their families who are our honored guests, and it allows them to focus on an enjoyable, unique experience," said Capt. Jason Nalepa, 95th FS pilot and event organizer.

"This is one way for the Boneheads (the 95th Fighter Squadron) to show how good we really are," Colonel Huyck said. "We consider ourselves the premier fighter pilot training squadron in the world, and this gives us a chance to train some of the world's youngest 'pilots'."

"I was most impressed with how fast they fly," said Kasey Kooler, "Pilot for a Day" participant. "It's been a fun learning experience."
"My favorite part was getting to sit in the cockpit," said Dustin Murdock, also a participant.

The program's youngest pilot for a day, a 5-year-old named C.J., said he couldn't wait to get his hands on the simulator and added that he loved the F-15.

"They're cool," he said.

"It's a privilege for us to be able to share what we do with local youth who are enthusiastic about life, despite their challenges," said Capt. Ryan McLain, 95th FS pilot and event host.

"I know everybody understands how much they (the children) enjoyed their time here, but what most people probably don't know is how much fun we had," said Capt. Caleb Haley, pilot with the 95th FS and event host. "Spending time with the kids was the highlight of our week in the 95th. It was a real privilege to give back to the community in the form of having a great day hanging out with great kids."

"We wanted this to be an extraordinary day for these extraordinary kids. We wanted to show them what we can really do," Colonel Huyck said.

The 95th Fighter Squadron partnered with the American Heart Association and the Make a Wish Foundation to coordinate the one-day event.