14-Mar-2023 Source: US Air Force
Diversity of background, experience, demographics, perspectives, and thought is essential to the success of the United States Air Force. To increase opportunities for various underrepresented groups within local communities and build a more diverse force, Air Force Global Strike Command partnered with Tuskegee University and Angelo State University to establish Project Tuskegee in February 2022. Later that year, Air Force Recruiting Service, Detachment 1 implemented the Aviation Inspiration Mentorship program to expand outreach and engagement activities with a mission to inform, influence and inspire the next generation of aviators.
For units such as the 37th Helicopter Squadron from F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming, the two initiatives present opportunities for UH-1N “Huey” crews to engage with and educate university and high school students across the country.
The first of such trips for 37 HS included Baylor University in Waco, Texas; Brazoswood High School in Clute, Texas; Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Holy Savior Menard Central High School in Alexandria, Louisiana from February 27 – March 2, 2023.
At both Baylor and LSU, the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps cadets were able to experience flying on a helicopter firsthand through orientation flights. During the flights, Capt. Isaac Eilts, a 37 HS instructor pilot; Capt. Daniel Chen, a 37 HS co-pilot; and Senior Airman Harrison Swayne, a 37 HS instructor flight engineer, were able to share the capabilities of the Huey, the mission within AFGSC, their experiences and their love of flying.
“When we had the opportunity to fly the cadets around their respective campuses, you could see the excitement and awe of the value of our current profession with vertical lift in the form of smiles and laughter,” described Eilts. “This passion for aviation was then transferred into the next generation of Air Force officers who will serve after us in this amazing capacity.”
Some of the cadets commented on how they did not know the Air Force had helicopters, and others even made the declaration that their desire to fly fighters has shifted to an interest in flying helicopters.
“I just had one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” exclaimed Cadet Todd Thomas, a senior from LSU AFROTC Detachment 310, after his orientation flight. “I always thought maybe I’d want to be a fighter pilot, but I find that helicopter [ride] really has me thinking otherwise. Being able to fly that low at that speed and do those maneuvers and see everyone on campus look up in amazement, that is just something you can’t experience anywhere else.”
At the high schools, the crew landed for a static display and allowed the students and faculty to climb in and ask questions.
Among comments and questions about “Top Gun,” call signs and specifics about the helicopter were exclamations of “there is a woman in the military,” as the female public affairs officer exited the aircraft and interacted with the students.
What made the high school visits particularly special was the fact they are the pilots’ alma maters, which made the pilots more connected to the community and relatable to the students.
“In the words of General Cotton, I was able to provide the future aviators at my high school with the aerial demonstration to ‘see me, be me’ by illustrating the foundation that Menard provided for me to set them up for success at the United States Air Force Academy and my career in the Air Force,” Eilts shared.
After speaking with Eilts, one of the students left saying, “bye, I have to go eat lunch and then apply for the Air Force Academy.”
While the students were positively impacted by the visits, the experience was also quite special for the pilots and had the added benefit of giving the crew a lot of flying time together.
“Personally, landing at my high school was an opportunity that I would have never even considered until this trip,” reflected Chen. “It was surreal to start that approach over where I grew up, made lifelong friends, and met my wife. I can already say that will be one of the top landings of my career, and it’s just getting started. Additionally, having the opportunity to fly into a different environment with an experienced crew like Isaac and Harrison was a great opportunity for me to learn and grow as a young aviator.”
In total, the crew flew 79 ROTC cadets between the two colleges and engaged with around 800 high school students and faculty.