Airmen at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., hosted 12-year-old Willians “Willy” Urrutia-Mejia Jr., during the Pilot for a Day event organized by the Check-6 Foundation and the Air Force Association in cooperation with multiple units on the installation, March 29, 2022.
Willy and his family joined Airmen at Nellis AFB for a tour of aircraft and facilities, learning about the Air Force and its many missions and career fields. As an honorary pilot, Willy received a flight suit with personalized patches provided by the Check-6 Foundation.
Over the course of the tour, Willy received F-16 flight simulator training provided by Thunderbird 1, Lt. Col. Justin Elliott, the squadron commander and lead pilot. He was also given a ride in the SA-13 “Gopher,” — a highly mobile short-range surface-to-air missile system, witnessed Thunderbirds maneuvers from the control tower, detonated explosives with the 99th Civil Engineer Explosives Ordnance Disposal team, and explored the Thunderbirds Museum.
Willy suffered an accident and became a UMC Children’s Hospital patient. Since then, he and his family have shown resilience throughout treatment and recovery efforts. The middle schooler did not let his accident get him down, however. He shares his favorite activities with his siblings like listening to music, cheering on the Las Vegas Raiders, or riding his scooter.
The event was hosted by the Check-6 Foundation and the Thunderbird chapter of the Air Force Association.
“Check-6 has over 15 years experience helping veterans and kids battling serious illness,” said Mike Knapp, the Check-6 Pilot for a Day program director. “While we’ve conducted 30 Pilot for a Day events at Joint Base Andrews, Md., we recognized that there was real opportunity to expand ‘the good’ we provide by partnering with the Air Force Association and their local chapters to expand these events nationwide.”
“We’re very excited to participate,” said Earnestine Urrutia-Mejia, Willy’s mother. “Ever since we learned about the program in December, we’ve been looking forward to the event.”
The tour culminated in an official ceremony with commanders from across the installation in attendance. Willy was presented the honorary Medal of Courage by Brig. Gen. Michael Drowley, 57th Wing commander.
“My favorite thing was the Thunderbirds,” said Willy, “Thank you all for having me.”
The event was the first Pilot for a Day hosted by Nellis AFB. Participating units included the 64th Aggressors Squadron, the 547th Intelligence Squadron, the USAF Thunderbirds, the 57th Operations Group and the 99th Civil Engineer Explosives Ordnance Disposal team. The event’s goal was to provide the youth with the opportunity to experience a “day-in-the life” of an Air Force pilot and create lifelong memories with his family.