MOODY AIR FORCE BASE -- In just his first day as a pilot, Ethan Fricke earned his wings, was presented with his squadron patches and examined a T-6 and T-38 with his name posted on the side.
But before continuing as a pilot with the 3rd Flying Training Group, 6-year-old Fricke had an oath to take.
Lt. Col. Mark Hess, commanding officer of the group, asked Fricke to promise his parents that he would do his homework before watching television and eat all his vegetables, including the peas.
Standing in his green flight suit complete with his name and patches, Fricke took the oath without complaint. On Tuesday, the 3rd Flying Training Group hosted Fricke and his family around the base for Moody's Pilot for a Day Program. About every three months, Moody offers the program through the Make-A-Wish Foundation to local children who have a serious illness.
"The whole purpose is that reason right there," said Lt. Jim Crum, of the 3FTS, as he pointed to Fricke standing on the wing of a T-38. "He's smiling and having a good time. It's about making the kids smile. If we can make kids smile, it's worth it."
As Fricke arrived at the base just before 2 p.m., airmen gave the Lakeland boy his own flight suit and shortly thereafter led him into a briefing for pilots. Sitting with Capt. Peter Reddan, Fricke learned different flight maneuvers including a loop-de-loop. As Reddan used a model airplane to show off the upside down maneuver, Fricke didn't hesitate to question the pilot.
"What if we fall out?" Fricke asked.
"Well, then you recover," Reddan quickly replied.
The lesson was a short glimpse of what Fricke's day later included. After examining a T-6 and T-38 that included his name on the side, Fricke was taken to a flight simulator and at the end of the day attended the demo team's flight practice. The 3FTS invited back Jori Taylor Hall for the demo team's performance since bad weather prevented her from watching the flights during her Pilot for a Day program last year.
"It's like a private airshow," said master Sgt. Bill Meli. "It's one of the many highlights of today."
Fricke's mother, Gina Fender, said when the Make-A-Wish Foundation contacted her and her husband, Roger, about the program she wasn't sure what to expect.
"It's been good so far," Fender said. "He just loves planes, and we live so close to Moody. He's very hyper, always excited."
Crum said the most important thing for pilots is to make sure the event is memorable for the child and his family.
"The biggest thing is if he's able to look back and really remember this," Crum said. "We're all about taking care of everybody. That's why we try to get other people involved so it can be an ongoing process."
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