Make-A-Wish helps kids become fighter pilots for a day

Published: Friday, June 13 2014 7:25 p.m. MDT

Updated: Friday, June 13 2014 7:44 p.m. MDT

Brigham Israelsen of Logan sits in an F-16 pilot seat as Capt. Bryan Brandson talks with him during the 388th Fighter Wing and Make-A-Wish Foundation Pilot-for-a-Day at Hill Air Force Base Friday, June 13, 2014. The Pilot-for-a-Day program's primary purpose is to support children in the local community who have life-threatening medical conditions.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Nine children and their families, with the help of the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Utah, got a chance to experience what it’s like to be a pilot for a day Friday.

“They showed me how there were many switches all around the pilot,” Saul Vergaray said. “It was pretty cool."

As an F-16 screamed into the air, 14-year-old Saul climbed into the cockpit of another F-16 inside a hangar.

“It was pretty cool,” he said. “They showed me how the different buttons worked, what the different screens did."

The day started with the kids having breakfast with the F-16 pilots. Then they received their own uniforms with name and squadron patches. After an up-close look at the planes and the bombs, the Wish Kids got to experience the F-16 flight simulators

Saul was assisted by Lt. Col. Tom Wolfe, who told the ninth-grader to put the plane into a loop. When they landed, it was smiles and good feelings all around.

Saul said the hardest part of the training simulation was the steering. “I mean, nobody is used to flying upside down and turning over,” he said.

It was a fun day for kids who've been through some tough times.

“I was diagnosed with a germinoma brain tumor in November,” Saul said.

The kids also got up close to an F-16 and sat in the cockpit, interacted with pilots and support personnel, and saw what it’s like to wear night-vision goggles.

The day wrapped up with a special ceremony where all the kids received a set of pilot wings from Col. Lance Landrum, the 388th Fighter Wing commander.

For the pilots, they were on a different type of mission Friday.

“It’s been great getting to take the day off of the normal flying schedule and all the work we do back in the squadron, get to take time away from all that to hang out with the kids and show them everything that we do to keep our country safe,” said Capt. Chris Prochnow, with the 421st Fighter Squadron.

Prochnow said he wanted to be a fighter pilot since he was as young as the kids.

“I know, for me, as a kid seeing fighters at an air show was kind of what did it,” Prochnow said. “Having the inspiration to do something like this for some of these kids, it's great to let them see this and be a part of this.”

In two weeks, the kids will be invited back to the base for the Warriors Over the Wasatch show, which will take place June 28 and 29, and will meet with the Thunderbirds air demonstration team.

Contributing: Viviane Vo-Duc

Email: kmccord@deseretnews.com

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