3rd AS revitalizes Pilot for a Day program

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Aaron J. Jenne
  • 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Members of the 3rd Airlift Squadron, the Royals, invited Dalton Padgett, 13, to participate in their newly revitalized Pilot for a Day program March 3, 2017.

The Pilot for a Day program is common throughout the Air Force and has been observed at Dover AFB as recently as 2015, but when Capt. Mike Knapp, 3rd AS instructor pilot, recently PCSd from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, and felt his new unit and the community would benefit greatly from revitalizing the program.

“When I got here, I saw we had a program, but it hadn’t been done in a while,” Knapp said. “I know how valuable a program like this can be for children going through what Dalton’s going through, and we want to bring them into our family and help support them.”

Knapp reached out to Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Wilmington and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and asked them to be on the lookout for children they thought could benefit from the program. Padgett, who was still receiving care from Alfred I. duPont, was suggested as the first participant in the revitalized program.

Padgett, a Seaford resident, sustained significant injuries to his leg in a forklift accident when he was 10. Three years and more than 50 surgeries later, he still requires routine medical care.

When he was invited to participate in the program, he thought it was just going to be a short tour of a couple planes with a bunch of other children from the hospital, but the squadron had different plans.

First Lt. Hannah Wiesneski, 3rd AS pilot, joined Knapp to escort Padgett and his family to the various events planned throughout the day. The day-long tour included stops at the Air Traffic Control Tower, Aircrew Flight Equipment, and the C-17 Simulator. The family also watched a military working dog demonstration, toured a C-17A Globemaster III and sat in on a 3rd AS brief.

At each stop, members from the hosting organization told Padgett about their job and how it fit into the Team Dover mission.

“I didn’t know all this was going to happen,” Padgett said. “I thought I was just going to come in, look in planes and leave. I didn’t know I was going to have dinner with Mike and Hannah and then come in here the next day and see the dogs, firetrucks, the tower, everything, and have fun with all the guys here. If my mom would have told me I was going to be doing all of this, I would have told her she was crazy. I got here and was like, wow, this is cool.”

As an honorary pilot, Padgett wore a flight suit with a personalized name patch provided by the squadron.

“This is really awesome,” Padgett said of his flight suit. “I know no kid at my school that has a whole flight suit, and has this,” he said as he removed his name patch. “I think I’m going to take this flight suit and hang it in a frame in my room. When my friends come over, I can show them.”

Along with the flight suit came an invitation to join the Royal family.

“Dalton is now a forever member of the Royal family,” Knapp said. “He’ll be invited to any of our squadron picnics, open houses and other squadron events. Hopefully, this will be a lasting relationship and we’ll be able to keep up with Dalton and his recovery.”

Knapp hopes to grow the program and invite several children to join the program each year, but he also acknowledged that the success of this event would not have been possible without outside help.

“This is a great showcase of what Dover Airmen do day-in and day-out,” Knapp said. “The impact that Dover AFB has on the community and vice versa has been a huge highlight of this trip. I think we’re able to keep the program more intimate by keeping it within the 3rd AS, but without all the support we got from around the base and community, events like this wouldn’t be possible. I’d like to thank everyone for their support.”