Back to News Front

Youth aviation event sparks new energy

Alaska Airlines aviation day at Sea-Tac

Several airmen from Joint Base Lewis-McChord participated in the 10th annual Alaska Airlines Aviation Day event May 5 at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Photo credit: Master SGT. Minnette Mason

Email Article Print Article Share on Facebook Share on Reddit Share on StumbleUpon

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 seven 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 May 5.

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 website. 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 the 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 Sea-Tac.

"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."

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."

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.

comments powered by Disqus