Typically when a pilot arrives at their first duty station, they’re in their early 20’s with a college degree, but the 344th Air Refueling Squadron made an exception for their newest pilot.
Grayson Westeman, a 3-year-old battling Leukemia, joined the 344th Air Refueling Squadron for a day as an honorary pilot on November 15, 2017.
The squadron welcomed Grayson and his family to the base as a part of a 20-year-old program that allows children with severe or chronic conditions to experience what it’s like to be an Air Force pilot.
“It was truly an honor for us to host the Westeman family for this event, and I couldn’t wait to show them what it’s like to be a pilot for a day,” said 1st Lt. Travis Frazier, 344th ARS KC-135 Stratotanker pilot and event coordinator.
Grayson and his sister, Ava, first arrived at the 344th ARS building and were presented with their very own flight suits and jackets with custom patches.
During the tour of the building, Grayson saw a line of aircraft models that represent the history of flight in the squadron.
November 15, 2017 - Grayson Westeman, 344th Air Refueling Squadron Pilot-for-a-Day, spins model plane propellers at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. During the tour, Westeman, a 3-year-old battling Leukemia, toured a KC-135 Stratotanker, piloted a KC-135 simulator and was presented with mementos from the 344th ARS(U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)
“Plane!” Grayson exclaimed as he approached the models.
Grayson spun the propellers and watched them rotate, grabbing his mom’s hand in excitement to show her the aircraft sitting on the shelf.
“He’s always been really amazed with planes, trains and cars,” said Heath Westeman, Grayson’s father. “When we woke up him up this morning and told him he was going to see planes, he shot up and was ready to go.”
After touring the building, the family visited the simulator to see how it feels to fly in a KC-135. Grayson said he was ready to drive. Although the small boy could barely see outside the window of the simulator he was able to safely land the aircraft after roughly 30 minutes of in-flight simulation with the help of Capt. Jacob Belka, 344th ARS assistant flight commander.
November 15, 2017 - Grayson Westeman, 344th Air Refueling Squadron Pilot-for-a-Day, looks over his shoulder from the pilot seat in a KC-135 Stratotanker simulator at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. Westeman, a 3-year-old who battles Leukemia, spent more than 30 minutes flying to different destinations in the KC-135 simulator. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)
Once they “mastered” the art of flying, they headed to the flight line, where there was a static display of a KC-135 waiting for them. Grayson’s eyes lit up as he walked into the hangar and saw the two parked aircraft. The family toured the outside and inside of one of the tankers.
After their visit to the hangar, members of the 344th ARS provided lunch for the family, and Lt. Col. Jerry Bennett, 344th ARS commander, presented Grayson with his very own plaque and coin.
November 15, 2017 - Grayson Westeman, 344th Air Refueling Squadron Pilot-for-a-Day, and his family with Airmen assigned to the 344th ARS at McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. The 344th ARS presented a plaque and a coin to Westeman, a 3-year-old who is battling Leukemia. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker)
“It’s amazing what these Airmen do,” said Heath. “They took time from their everyday duties to welcome us in, show us around and make his day.”
By U.S. Air Force Airman 1st Class Alan Ricker
Provided through DVIDS
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