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Top Ace: Cibolo youngster becomes Randolph 'Pilot for a Day'

By David DeKunder | Wingspread staff writer | Aug. 23, 2007

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — One local boy was given the rare opportunity to become an honorary pilot this week as part of a program headed by the 560th Flying Training Squadron. 

Monday, 10-year-old Joshua Wooten of Cibolo was the "Pilot for a Day" as he got a chance to tour the base, listen to pilots and commanders, see aircraft displays, test out flying simulators and tour a control tower. 

The "Pilot for a Day" program, which was started at Randolph in 1994, allows children with chronic or terminal illnesses to become a 12th Flying Training Wing honorary pilot. 

Joshua suffers from a rare chronic breathing disorder known as "hypoventilation syndrome" and needs to have an air ventilator with him at all times so he can breathe properly. According to medical experts, hyperventilation is breathing in excess of what the body needs. 

Tech Sgt. Joshua Melton of the Air Education Training Command Computer Systems Squadron, who has known the Wooten family for more than three years, made the connections that made it possible for Joshua to become a "Pilot for a Day." 

Ever since they first met, Sergeant Melton said Joshua has made a big impression in his life. 

"He is all the inspiration I need," Sergeant Melton said. "He is truly an amazing kid and much tougher than I am." 

During his time as "Pilot for a Day," Joshua was accompanied by his parents, James and Vanessa Wooten; his 15-year-old sister, Steffany; and his aunt, Amanda Ashley. 

Seeing the base and piloting the flight simulators was a positive thing for his son, Mr. Wooten said. 

"It will boost his confidence and make him believe he can do anything," Mr. Wooten said.
The day for Joshua began at 9 a.m., when he was greeted by Lt. Col. Dave Green of the 12th Operations Support Squadron in Hangar 12, home of the 560th FTS. 

As "Pilot for a Day," Joshua received a specially-fitted flight suit and the "Chargin Cheetah" patch worn by 560th FTS pilots from Lt. Col. Ron Perrilloux, 560th FTS commander. 

After putting on his flight suit, Colonel Green led Joshua and his family through a tour of the hangar, where they talked to pilots and saw exhibits such as the Hall of Honor 

"Freedom Flyers," which is dedicated to Air Force pilots who were shot down in Vietnam and came home, and a collection of POW artifacts from Vietnam. 

The Wooten family also got a chance to see the 560th FTS operations center where Josh tried on a pilot's helmet in the flight locker room. 

When the tour of the hangar was completed, Joshua and his family were taken to the flightline where they had an opportunity to get into the cockpit of three training aircraft - the T-38 Talon, T-1A Jayhawk and T-6 Texan II. 

At each of the aircraft displays, Joshua was given a brief lesson on the aircraft, its controls and how the aircraft flies. 

The family was also taken to the south flightline where they got a chance to board a T-43. While in the aircraft, Joshua got to go in the cockpit and see the equipment used by combat systems officers during their training. 

After lunch at the golf course, Joshua, his dad, sister and aunt tested three flight simulators -- the T-38, T-1 and T-6. At first, Joshua was apprehensive about going into the T-38 simulator, but once his dad took the controls Joshua began to feel more comfortable and enjoyed the experience. 

The 10-year-old liked the T-6 simulator so much, that he took control of it again and flew over the satellite images of Randolph and surrounding landmarks. 

Mr. Wooten said his son really got a kick out of piloting the simulators. 

"He's a natural and he did pretty well," said Mr. Wooten after Joshua finished the T-38 simulator. 

"To Joshua the simulators were like playing a giant video game," Ms. Wooten said. 

Once he finished the simulators, Joshua took a trip to the Randolph Fire Department, where he learned about fire trucks and rescue equipment from Staff Sgt. Zach McKinney, a base firefighter. 

The family received one last bonus stop as they toured the historic "Taj Mahal," Building 100. As they gathered in the rotunda, Joshua and his family were given a brief history lesson of the base, followed by a trip to the top of the 170-foot building, where they got a bird's-eye view of the base and the surrounding landscape. 

At the end of the day, Joshua received a honorary "Pilot for a Day" certificate from Colonel Perrilloux and a picture of a T-38 signed by squadron pilots that was inscribed with "Once a Cheetah always a Cheetah." 

When he received his gifts Joshua simply said, "Thanks." 

Colonel Green said he enjoyed spending the entire day with Joshua and his family. 

"He has been one of the best 'Pilots for a Day' we've had," the colonel said. 

Ms. Wooten said Joshua will have good memories from his "Pilot for a Day" experience. 

"It was a very awesome experience," she said. "He learned that he liked to fly an airplane. It was quite an opportunity for him." 

The experience of being a "Pilot for a Day" is a memory Joshua Wooten and his family should remember and cherish for a long time. 

The "Pilot for a Day" program was started by Capt. Rory Blackburn in December 1994 after visiting his wife at a local hospital. He noticed children who had to deal with chronic or even fatal illnesses. 

Believing some special attention would help these children, the captain came up with the idea of bringing the children and their families to Randolph and making them honorary members of the 560th FTS. There is a section in Hangar 12 dedicated to photos of past "pilots for a day." 

The "Pilot for a Day" program is made possible through the help of private donations through organizations such as the Randolph Officer's Wives Club, which helps pay for the children's flight suits and other expenses.