06/20/07 — Students try their hands at learning to fly F-15Es

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Students try their hands at learning to fly F-15Es

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on June 20, 2007 1:46 PM

Dalton Willis does not take long to answer when people ask him what he will be when he grows up.

The 10-year-old already has his call sign.

So when he stepped inside the F-15E Strike Eagle Simulator room Tuesday on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base and sat in the cockpit, it wasn't about the fun. It was about the experience.

"I want to be a pilot," he said. "I'm going to experience what a pilot is going to do in the F-15."

Dalton is one of 60 children enrolled in The Starbase Academy, a five-day aerospace program that focuses on science, mathematics and the Air Force. Classes and base tours began Monday and culminate Friday with graduation and a rocket launch at Greenwood Middle School.

Jakob Riffle is convinced his rocket will fly the highest -- even if his Air Force mother is not.

"My mom says I'm going to blow it up the first time," the 10-year-old Wayne Christian School student said. "I don't really know though."

Like Dalton, he, too, has considered fighting for his country one day.

"I'm thinking about it," Jakob said. "I want to but it's sort of hard. You need a lot of training."

But staring down 10 stories at F-15s on the ground from the top of the radar approach and control tower increased his motivation to find a seat in one -- or the other aircraft housed at Seymour Johnson.

"I like the F-15 but I also like the big plane that gasses up the little plane," he said.

Matthew Biggs interrupted.

"It's a KC-135," he said.

At 10, the Tommy's Road Elementary School student already knows his stuff. His favorite part of the camp so far was watching planes landing from the tower.

"It was awesome," Matthew said. "It was one of the funnest experiences I've ever had."

And then there were those still undecided -- not quite sure whether or not they would cut it in the Air Force one day.

Daniel Rogers, 10, was just glad he got to learn how to read a compass.

Tommy's Road student Tyler Thornton was excited about the chance to meet an "attack dog" at the base kennel.

But for Dalton -- call sign "Indy Boy" -- and his new friend Jakob, joining the Air Force is still this week's dream.

"I'm going to try," Jakob said. "I want to fly the airplanes though. I like figuring out all the buttons."