YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- Some children dream of growing up to become firefighters, scientists or doctors, but for Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Kailea Deleon, Yokota Civil Air Patrol superintendent, that aspiration is aimed a little higher.
Deleon hopes for the experience of roaring engines over tranquil clouds and the view of the distant land below her—the life of a pilot.
With the help from the 36th Airlift Squadron (AS) and 1st Lt. Alex Atwood, a C-130J Super Hercules pilot, that dream was made a reality with the Pilot for a Day program, August 7, at Yokota Air Base, Japan.
“Pilot for a Day is a great opportunity for us to show what a career in aviation is like,” said Lt. Col. Steven Massie II, 36th AS commander. “It also allows the participant to be a part of this squadron, which in my opinion, is the ‘crème de la crème.’”
The day started with a tour of the 36 AS Aircrew Flight Equipment (AFE) shop, where Deleon tried on a pilot’s helmet equipped with night-vision goggles, as well as floatation devices used by the aircrew during flights.
Following the AFE shop tour, Deleon sat in on a brief where she learned the history of the squadron and C-130s before boarding the aircraft herself. Once on the aircraft, Deleon met the pilots and loadmasters that she would be flying with and conducted a mission brief with the team before take-off.
“It’s great to be able to share this with the next generation,” said Atwood. “They see the planes flying around but it’s completely different to be up there with them. I think it’s a huge confidence boost for them to realize this is something they could do in the future.”
For Deleon, the whole experience only strengthened her already established desire to one day become a pilot.
“It was a lot of hands-on experience for me,” said Deleon. “There was education on the different facets of aviation and mentorship that showed me this is an attainable goal. I enjoyed the whole day.”
As a cadet, opportunities to practice what she learns are not always available, Deleon said. She recommends the experience to any kid or cadet that has an interest in avionics or becoming a pilot.
The day ended with pizza and chatting with the pilots in the 36 AS Heritage Room, giving Deleon another chance to further expand her knowledge of pilot life.
“The kids that participate hopefully take what they learned and pass it on to their family and friends who may also be interested in flying,” said Atwood. “It upholds the skies as a friendly and fun place.”