Officials at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum held the annual “Become a Pilot” family day June 16, in Chantilly, Va.
More than 45 aircraft were on display as the museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, including two A-10 Thunderbolt IIs and a C-17 Globemaster III, which had its cargo bay and flight deck opened to the public.
In the C-17 and other aircraft, kids could climb behind the controls, ask questions to experienced pilots and aircrew and learn about what Capt. Anthony Bombaci, of the 305th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., calls ‘”the best job in the Air Force.”
“I really love flying this aircraft,” said Bombaci of the C-17. “So I like to share some of the enjoyment I find in my job and hopefully motivate some of the kids (to pursue a career in aviation).”
After guiding a young visitor to the pilot’s seat, Bombaci smiled. “I wanted this job since I was about his age,” he said. “So anytime I get the opportunity to show somebody else what I do, that’s awesome.”
Nothing in the C-17, from the cargo bay to the flight deck, was was off-limits. But while Bombaci’s head was on a constant swivel to prevent injuries to visitors and damage to his aircraft, he said he is not worried; his crew has their eyes on everything, while they guided the visitors and answered any inquiries.
“We get a lot of really good questions,” said Bombaci. “It’s a great chance to show people what we do.”
Bombaci himself is a frequent visitor to the museum, he said, and could spend hours perusing the different aircraft.
“I’m like a little kid here,” Bombaci said. “Even though I get to do this for a living, I am all-smiles myself, checking it all out.”
His feelings were shared by his crew.
“Events such as this are one of my favorite things to do,” said 1st Lt. David Bishop, the C-17′s co-pilot.
“It’s nice to see people get excited about what I do; it’s one of the easiest things to talk about.”
Bishop hoped that some of his enthusiasm for his profession may inspire future generations.
For Kiron Khashnobisch, 12, the event did just that.
“I liked the glass display,” said Kiron, speaking of the C-17′s heads-up display. “It has different colors and information, and it was really cool.”
While Kiron is new to aviation, others his age are already veterans of the flightline: Cadets of the Virginia Civil Air Patrol, clad in battle dress uniforms, assisted with flight-line security for the parked aircraft.
“Today’s events provide the cadets a good experience of working with aircraft,” said CAP 2nd Lt. Iain Ronis, of the Leesburg Composite Squadron in Leesburg, Va. “What they get to experience at events like this really exposes them to a wide range of things that other kids typically may only read about — here they get to go out to see, do, touch and feel aviation.”
While the event hosted a wide variety of aircraft, including the U.S. president’s VH-3D Sea King helicopter, better known by its call sign “Marine One,” the C-17 was by far the biggest aircraft outside the museum’s hangar.
“The C-17 is hands-down the winner,” said Margy Natalie, the museum’s docent program manager and event organizer. “Kids and parents love seeing and experiencing the aircraft. It’s big and it’s cool. The CAP cadets just stopped in awe when they saw it.”
For Natalie, Become a Pilot Day is one of the best ways to get children interested in aviation and technology.
“A lot of people simply don’t know what it takes to become a pilot,” said Natalie. “With tighter security at airports, they also don’t have the opportunity to get up-close and personal with the aircraft and personnel, so we try to highlight and offer all types of aviation whether it’s military or civilian — we have everything.”
Planning the event that hosts an expected crowd of more than 15,000 visitors, is a work of passion for Natalie, who is a pilot herself. “We’re the National Air and Space museum, so we like airplanes — I’m already thinking about next year,” she said.
The museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center is located in Chantilly, Va., near Washington Dulles International Airport. The museum is open daily from 10 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. (closed Dec. 25). Admission is free, but there is a $15 fee for parking at the Udvar-Hazy Center.