Okay, so I'm a doofus in forgetting I already spilled the beans on here about Brayden's Pilot for a Day! I guess the surprise is when it happened? He was SO thrilled to be chosen 1 of 4 boys by his Social Worker at Children's to get to participate in this amazing opportunity. All 4 boys that went are receiving treatment or care at Children's for various reasons. It was neat to meet another Oncology patient & family. Little Rock Air Force Base has started this new program in allowing these kiddos to get to come on the base and be a Pilot for a Day! Last Friday, we started our day VERY early at 4am to drive to Jacksonville, AR, for the big event. Driving up on the base was incredible. We were greeted with a huge C-130 right on the parking lot. I was worried about Brayden touching anything but they were so encouraging that nothing was off limits.
We were thankful to Capt. Jason for holding up the 40lb helmet so Brayden didn't collapse! The boys were able to tour the mobile command unit and disposal vehicle that they use to respond to bomb threats and that it's also used for some celebrities and foreign dignitaries. COOL! We asked if names of who she's protected is classified. Nice. Next, she introduced the boys to JERRK - Joint Effort Rapid Response Kommand Robot. While she began demonstrating all the buttons and controls of the robot, she was explaining how it is used to help protect soldiers by allowing the robot to get closer to the bomb. It was amazing to hear how they're using this technology to diffuse the bomb in order to be able to use the bomb components as evidence to catch more terrorists. To use the robot & diffuse a bomb is a huge victory in their work. She began to demonstrate how the robot works and was working to figure out why it wasn't moving. The best quote of the day was when Brayden said, "I think the safety is on." Bambi smiled & had to give Bray kudos for being so smart - it was on! Capt. Jason seemed to get as much of a kick out of that one as we did. I suddenly realized why he was over in the corner sitting on a tractor when Bambi handed the controls over to Brayden. He loved getting to maneuver the robot and it's shoulder, elbow, wrist controls to practice picking up a fake bomb. Bambi was amazed at how well the boys do when she's worked with Air Force Pilots who couldn't do that well with the robot their first time. I don't think Capt. Jason thought that was as funny as we did. Meanwhile...I swear I could hear the "Danger Zone" music playing in the background.
We next headed over to the runway. WOW! Were we ever up close! We were told the media would be there and Brayden wasn't too happy about the tv camera. But being able to climb inside a real C-130 on the runway made him forget about the camera all together! The boys were a flurry of activity being right on the runway & so close to the action of the planes landing & taking off back to back, jumping in the pilot seat & getting to check out all the buttons, the cargo area, and seeing how the real heroes return home from overseas in these planes. AMAZING!
Oh, our final destination. The boys knew it was coming yet no one was prepared for how amazing it was. THE FLIGHT SIMULATOR! We had an instructor who is the most experienced on C-130 training and explained to us how this is how all pilots are now trained. They only fly in an actual plane 1 time before their training is complete. It costs nearly $6MM to train 1 pilot and only 1 hour in the flight simulator costs $20,000! Needless to say, the parents were all thankful for the 1 hour our boys got to spend but I know I felt a little guilty about the cost - WOW! We were surprised to learn we'd be able to go with the boys - 30 min flight, 6 people per trip, so we broke up into 2 groups. Brayden was the youngest boy that day but letting others go first was something his excitement erased that day! He was out the door first already on his way to the simulator with Capt. Jason. This thing was AMAZING! I'm getting dizzy just recalling it. You really felt like you were in a plane. The computer has so many abilities to make it any type of weather environment, any time of day, any location. Brayden got to start out taxiing down the runway of the actual Little Rock Air Force Base! It was SO realistic! He got to take off and I looked at Nini & the other Mom and realized what we were in for! Thankfully the instructor was at the computer to help 'lessen' the impact we might have felt of some of the maneuvers Brayden tried. I kept reminding him to listen to everything Capt. Jason was telling him and was SO thankful he was in the co-pilot seat. Brayden got to fly closer to the simulated downtown Little Rock, circle around, try to land, and then took back off again without stopping!! It wasn't too much longer he was starting to realize he was really in control and took a nosedive! We really felt it and thankfully the instructor helped stop the simulator before we all felt the effect of a crash! Here are some of Brayden's quotes from his 'flight':
- "You guys, I'm probably never going to be a co-pilot again!"
- "Hope there's an emergency brake in here!"
- "Mom, are you seeing this?"
- "Should I get the oxygen tank?"
- While taking a dive..."I just did that to get you guys' attention."
- "Yeah, uh, I was crashing from 30,000 feet, but at least I landed on soft grass"
- "Uh, Captain Jason! Help me here!"
- Then, on the way home later while recalling the incredible events - "I really flew that bird"