Flying Yankees welcome honorary "Pilot for a Day"

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Steven Tucker
  • 103rd Airlift Wing

Sporting a youth-sized flight suit complete with a custom embroidered name patch, 10-year-old Jadiel Aponte became the newest honorary pilot through the 103rd Airlift Wing’s annual “Pilot for a Day” program September 19, 2019.

“It’s a program where we reach out to the community and work with local hospitals to find a child who is sick with some sort of acute or terminal illness,” said 1st Lt. Jordan Edgar, 118th Airlift Squadron pilot and “Pilot for a Day” coordinator. “We’ll bring the child on base, give them a tour and a uniform, show them what we do as a unit, and just let them have a fun time.”

“Pilot for a Day” was originally organized by Capt. Rory “Ox” Blackburn at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas in 1994. Since then, the program has expanded throughout the Air Force. The 103rd’s program has been running for over five years, said Edgar.

Aponte, from Waterbury, received a warm welcome from Flying Yankees during a pinning of the wings ceremony conducted by Col. Roy Walton, 103rd Airlift Wing vice commander. Aponte also received coins from Lt. Col. John Saunders, 103rd Operations Group commander, and Chief Master Sgt. James Traficante, 103rd Airlift Wing command chief. He was also presented the Connecticut National Guard’s The Adjutant General’s coin by Walton.

Aponte, accompanied by his mother, Lisa Matta, and father, Victor Aponte, received a tour that included stops at aircrew flight equipment, engine shop, fire department, multi-mission crew trainer, flight line, Bradley International Airport Control Tower, and a ride in a Humvee.

The day’s events were a welcome break from Aponte’s battle with cancer, his parents said.

“He’s definitely enjoying it—just seeing the smile on his face is awesome,” said Victor. “And that’s what it’s all about: him being happy.”

Aponte’s tour was originally scheduled for earlier in September, but was rescheduled due to an unexpected hospital visit. Later that original day, however, Edgar and fellow pilot, 2nd Lt. Alexandra Pagoni, stopped in to see Aponte and, to his delight, deliver his flight suit.

“He’s been talking about the flight suit now ever since they dropped it off,” said Victor. “I said ‘Wait, the day is coming, just wait.’ Now he might wear it to sleep and use it as pajamas.”

Seeing that joy in Aponte is what the day is all about, said Edgar.

“I like that we get to help them in a really difficult time and bring a really fun, enjoyable day out of what’s a pretty hard situation to be going through,” said Edgar. “So for them to get to take a break from that and see Jadiel put on the flight suit and have fun—that’s probably the best part.”

“I’m just happy he’s happy, and I appreciate everyone taking time out of their busy schedules to do something like this for him,” said Victor. “It really means a lot.”