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Scott Air Force Base Hosts Pilot for a Day

On Feb. 28, Scott Air Force Base, in partnership with the Check-6 Foundation and Shriners Hospital for Children – St. Louis took 11 year old Avery Propst of Hartsburg, Mo. on a day-long tour of the base. He was accompanied by his mother, Kelsey Brooks, his father, Robert Propst and his stepfather, Garret Brooks. This is Scott Air Force Base’s first Pilot for a Day through the Check-6 Foundation.

The survivor of a lawnmower accident, Avery lost his leg at the age of two and a half. Someone at Shriners Hospital submitted Avery as a candidate for the Check-6 Foundation’s Pilot for a Day program and he was chosen to be the first to take part in it at Scott Air Force Base. Gifted with his own personal flight suit, he took to the Air Force Base with excitement.

Avery’s mother, Kelsey spoke about how much Shriners Hospital has helped the whole family with Avery and what they do there. “We had probably gone to four different prosthetic places to try and figure out what he was going to need but we finally ended up at Shriners where we had learned more there than all of the other four places. It’s our home away from home. We were just there because he had surgery 6 months ago, we go back every 6 months for a check up. He gets a new leg every year until he’s done growing.”

Lt. Col. Ryan Szmajda, of the 375 Operations Group spoke about how Avery was chosen for the program and . “Everything that Avery sees today, with the exception of this (dog demonstration) event, is through our airmen from the 375th operations group. Avery was going through physical therapy and recovery with Shriners, so the Check-6 Foundation, they’ve got contacts within the Shriners network and reached out to select a candidate that was excited and interested in seeing Air Force things like airplanes, dogs and all the things we have to offer.”

Lt. Col. Szmajda also discussed diversity and inclusion in the military, as it has changed over the last few years. “Diversity and inclusion of all people is important for the military. And it’s important for us to reflect on the population. I believe there’s just as many civilian employees at the Air Force Base as people in uniforms. And most, not most, but a lot of those people are former military members that end up after 20 years, a little bit broken. Disabilities are accommodated in accordance with Department of Defense regulations.”

Szmajda spoke about Major Mike Knapp, DIrector of the Check-6 Foundation and how he had flown with someone who was disabled. “He actually flew with a pilot who, due to accident or illness, lost the lower part of his leg and was able to keep flying aircraft and he’s not the only one. We had someone within our family also with a prosthetic limb, but continued to fly.”

At the start of the day, Avery was able to speak via a zoom call with former Kansas City Chiefs player, Christian Okoye. Avery is a self proclaimed massive fan of the Kansas City Chiefs and during their discussion, Okoye promised to award Avery with a few pieces of memorabilia from the Super Bowl. Avery also currently possesses a prosthetic decorated with Kansas City Chiefs’ logo. Soon after, Avery visited an air traffic control tower at 8:00 AM to tour it and get a briefing by Senior Airman Cole Wilson, before then visiting the K-9 Kennel. Scott Air Force Base has 6 dogs, made up of German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois. Avery was excited to see one of the dogs perform a take-down training test. 

After the dog handler demonstration, Avery and his family took a tour of a C-40 plane and Avery got to sit inside the aircraft’s cockpit. The C-40 is sometimes referred to as, “an office in the sky” and is used by politicians and other officials for transportation while working. Avery was then able to have lunch on the plane. Going from there, he visited a hangar featuring many of the much smaller, C-21, where Avery again was able to sit in the cockpit and was given a lesson by 1st Lt. Thomas Nicholson, 458 AS. These planes were much smaller than the previously seen C-21 and a few people joked that while it may be small for an adult, it was just the right size for Avery.

Avery then was given a tour of the massive KC-135. This aircraft is used to refuel other planes while in the air and is stripped away inside, leaving much of the mechanisms visible. Once again Avery was seated in the cockpit and was given a lesson of the history of the craft, this time by Lt. Col. Charles Restall. Soon after this however, he was brought to the Boeing-crafted KC-135 simulator where he would be able to pilot the plane himself, under safe conditions. This simulator is a pod-like design that also simulates movements that feel real.

During the Simulation, Avery was able to pilot the simulated KC-135 from Lambert Airport, flying through the St. Louis Arch; something no pilot is allowed to do in reality. He also flew over the Kansas City Chiefs’ Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City before taking in the view of how it looked in flight from the outside of the simulator.

The Check-6 Foundation has been sponsoring the Pilot for a Day program for over 15 years in the Maryland and Washington DC areas, but have recently expanded to encompass the entire nation. They will be rewarding more children in the near future with similar experiences and Scott Air Force Base will now continue as a part of the program.

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