Youth aviation event sparks new energy

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Minnette Mason
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Shortly after sunrise on the McChord Field runway, Maj. JC Schilling awaited direction from air traffic controllers while seated in the left pilot seat of a C-17 Globemaster III. Once airborne, his flight lasted only 7 minutes before landing at his final destination.

Schilling, a pilot with the 313th Airlift Squadron, experienced “both sides of his professional careers melting together” when he landed at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for the 10th annual Alaska Airlines Aviation Day on May 5, 2018.

Aviation Day provided “the opportunity for young adults to learn about different paths in the aviation industry and education possibilities for a successful career,” according to the Alaska Airlines web site. Registration was open to youth ages 13-18, and activities included were aviation career lectures, static aircraft displays and tours, information booths, and access to a Boeing 737 simulator, to name a few. This year, about 2,000 students participated in the event.

“It was an awesome experience,” Schilling said, with a grin on his face.

Schilling has been a C-17 pilot in Air Force Reserve for about a year and is also a first officer for Alaska Airlines. Participating in the event gave him an opportunity to interact with the community for both employers.

“Being able to bring both sides of my world together was a pretty exceptional experience, especially because it’s so early in my [Air Force Reserve] career,” Schilling explained. “[Alaska Airlines coworkers] can see someone they’ve been flying with wearing an Alaska Airlines uniform one day and a military uniform the next day. I think it gives some power to the term ‘Citizen Airman.’ People can understand it a little bit better.”

Several airmen who also participated in the event helped Aviation Day attendees gain understanding of what it means to serve. Schilling’s flight crew was among a mixture of passengers on board the C-17 flight from the 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Airlift Wing, including: active duty and Reserve pilots and loadmasters, active duty and Reserve aircraft maintenance technicians, and Reserve aeromedical evacuation technicians. In addition, cadets from the University of Washington’s Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps Detachment 910 and recruiters from the 361st Recruiting Squadron boarded the jet once it landed at SeaTac.

“Events like Aviation Day are very important because it reaches out to the next generation of future Airmen,” said Master Sgt. Grant Grady, regional supervisor and flight chief of C-Flight with the 361st RCS. “We want to look for people who have a passion for this job and coming to something like this makes it easy for us.”

Staff Sgt. Elliot Bullis, recruiter with the 361st RCS, agrees. He found himself relating to many of the young people he spoke to.

“There are a lot of people who don’t really know anything about the Air Force but share the love of aviation, which is how I was,” Bullis said. “I didn’t know anything about the Air Force when I joined, but I always loved airplanes. So it was an easy [decision] for me once I learned out about the Air Force. That’s why it’s so important that we’re here--for people exploring options.”

Exploring options was precisely the goal for one chaperone who brought four students. Stacy Cotton chaperoned four teen-age Robot Camperz, a co-ed group based out of Camp Fire of Central Puget Sound. Cotton wanted her group to meet the airmen because there are members from the group whose grandfathers served in the Air Force.

“One of the things I really liked is how open everyone is to talk to the kids,” she said. “Getting them engaged—instead of just standing around—is important because kids aren’t necessarily going to get engaged. It was really nice.”

Simply talking to the young aviators was an understatement, however, according to 14-year-old Harrison Cotton, one of the Robot Camperz.

“The orange thing looks like it does nothing, but it’s actually an exhaust pipe or fan,” Cotton said while pointing to a structure inside the C-17. “When you have engines running, it blows air in a way so you’re not breathing in exhaust fumes. It doesn’t look like it does anything, but it does something pretty important.”

After spending a day with hundreds of youth who shared Cotton’s excitement, Schilling reflected on the interactions he had. Prior to joining the 313th AS, Schilling served 12 years as an active duty pilot in the Air Force. He said he strongly identifies himself as a C-17 pilot because this has been a major role in his professional development.

“Being able to see younger teens and preteens come in with excitement and energy because they were able to walk around in an airplane reminded me of why I like to do what I do. Sometimes you forget because you just do it over and over again and you don’t really take the time to realize how cool the job really is and how amazing and privileged we are to operate the C-17.

“Their eyes are wide, and everything is amazing and cool; they were wowed. Every single thing was another exciting moment for them as we talked and showed them everything.

“There was literally one kid upstairs who wanted to touch and talk about every single switch that he could see. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for that, but it was fun to realize that there are kids out there who are excited about what we do. It reinvigorates this part that we have and makes us realize how lucky we are to get to do it,” Schilling said.