Red-Tailed Hawks swoop in for C-17 training
By David L. Yost, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published February 22, 2017
JOINT BASE LEWIS-McChord, Wash. --
On a Saturday where the sun broke through the typical layer of clouds that are a trademark of the Pacific Northwest, a bus transported students and their parents to an ordinary looking building on a corner of McChord Field.
It was a drill weekend for the 446th Airlift ‘Rainier’ Wing, meaning instead of spending the weekend hiking or running errands, Citizen Airmen were busy sharpening skills necessary to support the Air Force’s global mission. As members of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Cub, this bus load of students had similar plans as it rolled up at the C-17 Maintenance Training Facility.
“Every kid in here goes up flying,” said Willie Middleton Sr., coordinator for the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Cub.
The Red-Tailed Hawks are a youth flying club chartered by the Black Pilots of America. Student ages range from 11 to 17, with the goal of promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The majority of students are African American, with some Hispanic participants. Anyone can participate as long as they fall into the target age range.
“They say, I never thought I could be a pilot,” said Middleton.
Yet many of the flying club have pilot hours already logged, with the goal of being licensed while in grade school. A Saturday spent at the C-17 Maintenance Training Facility gives an opportunity not only to examine a different airframe from their usual Cessna light aircraft, but meet with Air Force members that are working in aviation across all perspectives.
“I like teaching people,” said Tech. Sgt. Gardner, an instructor with the 373rd Training Squadron Detachment 12. “We want people to see what we do on a daily basis.”
The day’s events included classroom instruction, and a pilot and a loadmaster from the 446th AW visited the students to speak about their experiences piloting and loading the C-17. The C-17 mock-ups used to teach maintenance to crew chiefs allows a perspective outside of just flight operations.
The 373rd TRS is based out of Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. They train the personnel at the C-17 Maintenance Training Facility that maintain aircraft assigned to McChord Field. This presents an opportunity for students who may be considering the Air Force what the next step might be to finding a career in aviation.
“Some of these kids don’t want to fly; we show them here’s the jobs, here’s these career fields,” said Middleton.
Naturally, the allure is to end up in a flight suit. With the Air Force Reserve experiencing a pilot shortage along with the active duty component, pilots are going to be in great demand and organizations like the Red Tailed Hawks help groom excellent candidates to fill this shortage.
Requirements to become a pilot include a bachelor’s degree and extensive training before earning a coveted set of wings, and with it the option of flying one of the many airframes the Air Force has in its inventory. A Saturday visit between the Red-Tailed Hawks and experienced airmen illuminated what the future may hold.
“Honestly, I thought it was awesome,” said Juarez Rosborough, 15, a member of the Red-Tailed Hawks Flying Club. “I got to learn more about the C-17. This group gives me a boost.”