JOINT BASE ANDREWS, Md. --
The excited chatter of 48 Junior ROTC cadets from Charles H. Flowers High School filled the 1st Helicopter Squadron at Joint Base Andrews, Md., Jan. 13, 2023.
The goal of the visit was to create a bridge from simply seeing aircraft to understanding how to get to the pilot’s seat - as well as letting students sit in a real one. Cadets started the day with a welcome from Maj. Bryant Davis, Air Force District of Washington public affairs director, who encouraged them to learn about different pathways to the skies.
“The message we’re bringing to you is ‘Go fly planes, go fly helicopters,’” Davis said. “Take advantage of these awesome opportunities because while they might seem out of reach, in reality it’s a lot more in reach than you might think.”
Davis described options for becoming a pilot in the Air Force, such as attending the United States Air Force Academy, or commissioning through ROTC or Officer Training School.
The cadets then rotated through three tactile stations, a static display of a UH-1N Huey, a virtual reality training simulator, and the flight equipment gear room.
In the virtual reality training simulator room, a bank of VR stations lined a dark room. After students donned headsets, they learned this was no video game - piloting a helicopter over Washington, D.C., was more challenging than they thought.
For Cadet Captain Denajah Spivey, who was selected to attend the 2023 Chief of Staff of the Air Force Private Pilot Scholarship Program this summer, trying her hand at flying a helicopter opened a new option.
“So far I’ve loved absolutely everything; I never really thought about flying helicopters before, but the first thing we did was go to the virtual reality simulators,” Spivey said. “Of course, there are differences between flying a helicopter or plane, but either way, being up in the air is something I want to do pretty soon.”
Outside, students sat in an actual helicopter and alternated between checking out the rows of instrument panels and taking a few selfies. Some students commented they had never seen a helicopter up close, much less sat one.
In the gear room, students tried on a range of flight equipment, including night vision goggles, and asked candid questions of the Airmen assisting.
First Helicopter Squadron representatives Master Sgt. John Cover, 1st Lt. Cassandra Jehly, and 1st Lt. Ty Davis helped the students really understand Air Force life, answering all questions ranging from where they were from, to if they like being in the Air Force and specific questions about pay.
First Lt. Ty Davis, a pilot, explained the parts of the helicopter to the students, and said events like this are important for the Air Force’s future.
“Giving them the perspective of what our missions are helps focus them a little bit more on the ‘why,’” Lt. Davis said. “When they can finally see a piece of our mission and meet crews here, then the bridge between their own ‘why’ and an Air Force mission’s ‘why’ may be built for them, and there’s potentially accessible mentors they met here.”
For Spivey, this inside look strengthened her understanding of the Air Force.
“I definitely feel like I got to see inside the Air Force,” Spivey said. “Of course, on the outside you see ‘ooh planes’ but now that I can actually see what they do on the inside and how certain groups operate, I’m definitely going for this in the future.”
Our Air Force and Space Force wants to attract and recruit the best talent from diverse backgrounds to cultivate a high performing and innovative Air Force reflective of the best of our nation, and events like this help accomplish that goal.