HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah — Eight children and their families from Make-A-Wish Utah visited the 388th Fighter Wing at Hill Air Force Base and earned their wings during a “Pilot for a Day” program here May 24.
Make-A-Wish grants the life-changing wishes of children battling a critical illness.
“It means a lot for these children to have a great day where they can feel like a pilot, but also just to feel like a normal kid for a while,” said Jenny Horton, volunteer manager for Make a Wish Utah.
The group started the day by receiving their very own fitted flight suits with embroidered name tags, patches, and badges from the 34th Fighter Squadron. The suits were hanging in lockers waiting for them, along with pilots from the Air Force’s first combat capable F-35A fighter wing.
The children smiled as they stepped into and zipped up their new flight suits. Each child paired off with a pilot and began learning about being an Airman. Some were shy. Some made instant friends.
“A lot of us dreamed of flying when we were kids, so to be able to share this with them and just let them have a good time out here is a great opportunity for us to experience that again and give back to the community,” said 34th Fighter Squadron F-35A pilot, 1st Lt. Buck Horn.
In addition to getting flight suits, the group got hands-on with real flight equipment, including an advanced helmet, integrating night vision, noise cancelling headphones, and a heads-up display projected onto the visor, which is tied into all of the jet’s vital systems.
The families received an inside education as they walked and talked with pilots around the F-35 prior to watching takeoffs and landings.
Being on an Air Force base and this close to America’s most advanced fighter jet is an experience the families say they won’t soon forget.
“The jets were a lot bigger than I thought they’d be. They were louder than I thought they’d be. They were awesome. The pilots were cool. I liked meeting them because I know they are protecting us and keeping us safe,” said Tate Empey who visited Hill with the Make a Wish group.