This week I had a delightful conversation with Sean Cappel, son of Rich and Deb who operate the NAPA store in McCook. Sean had just completed his first flight as a pilot in the F-16. It is officially known as the "Viper" but for those who fly it fondly the "Electric Jet."
It is a single-seat premier fighter for the U S Air Force and many of our free world allies. Lockheed has built over 4,500 of them and more are coming off the assembly line. The public knows the bird as the brightly painted jet flown by the Thunderbirds.
Sean is one of the "kids" that I have taught to fly. Somehow that process also seems to have implanted a dream of a career in aviation.
He graduated from MHS and then earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Nebraska Omaha. While at school he continued his flying training and became a flight instructor. Studies complete he did flight instructing at Council Bluffs but discovered, as all too many have, that he enjoyed the challenge but was living on starvation wages. Casting about for other possibilities he looked for a pilot slot with the South Dakota Air National Guard. Accepted, he then embarked on a two-year journey to earn his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Then it was on to pilot training at the Euro/NATO training base at Wichita Falls, Texas. There he flew the new T-6 prop jet trainer and then the T-38 twin engine jet trainer. Following the award of pilot wings he completed a "Fighter Lead In" stint before reporting to Phoenix, Arizona for training in the F-16.
I am proud to note that he honored this old broken down tanker pilot by having me swear him in and commission him into the Air Force. Then again I was honored to pin his pilot wings on his chest as he graduated from pilot training.
As we journey through life each of us knowing or unknowingly touches others to aspire to follow in our footsteps. There are many honorable professions available to the youth of today and the best example they can have is to observe an adult that is successful in that endeavor.
Teachers come to mind and a great many of their students have a dream to emulate the best. Where do the youth of today catch the dream of becoming a medical professional but to be touched by a doctor, dentist or nurse that they see as successful? Farmers, professionals in law enforcement, ministers, priests, lawyers, reporters, even politicians; the list is long. Each of us has an opportunity to plant a seed that will blossom for the one that will do whatever it takes to follow in our footsteps. It is both a privilege and a profound responsibility.
For me, Sean is one of many. Nate Allerheiligen caught the dream and then graduated in the top of his class at the Air Force Academy. Nate flew C-130 cargo aircraft and became a Squadron Commander. Today he is teaching at the Air University in Alabama and was recently selected earlier than his peers to pin on the eagles of a bird colonel.
Trevor Evans is at the moment is flying out of Kuwait as a copilot in the giant C-17 cargo aircraft. Lance Wach is about to graduate from the Air Force Academy and will then go on to pilot training. Kyle Craw, excellent pole vaulter at UNL was home on spring break to report to me that he had secured a Marine scholarship that should lead to a commission and a pilot training slot. Shane German, private pilot is doing well as a freshman at the Air Force Academy. Somehow I was privileged to infect each of them with the aviation virus and they are living out their dreams.
Not all of my students tackle the challenges of military flight. Asher Brooks is attending UNO and also working as a flight instructor at Millard Airport in Omaha. His future I'm not sure that even Asher knows. I have trained several young men that are now crop dusters.
Levi Ruppert and a few others have gone on the fly jets in the corporate world. Brad Loper is flying for the airlines. Susanne Peters became a flight instructor then airline pilot but is now occupied by motherhood. Ryan Flaming, Ogallala, earned his private license and is now in New York attending mechanics school to prepare him to be a missionary pilot in South America.
Of course not all those that I taught to fly have gone on to a career in aviation. Some never fly again after attaining their license.
Some use aircraft as a tool incidental to whatever profession that they chose to follow. Many just keep their hand in and simply fly for personal enjoyment.
One of my greatest pleasures in life is to hear back from those with whom I have spent many hours in the cockpit as they proudly report goals achieved in life. I am so very privileged to share their triumphs.
Well I know that it wasn't my effort that made their dream come true, they earned it all on their own. I perhaps planted a seed that grew to full measure and burst into a glorious blossom. There isn't another teacher out there that doesn't share the same blessing whenever a past pupil stops by to simply say "thanks." Life simply doesn't get any better than that!
That is how I saw it.