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Student pilot sees dream come to life

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 80th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs officer
Brittany Oligney knew what was in her future from the moment she pulled back on the flight controls of her uncle's float plane and it lifted off of an Alaskan lake when she was in the 7th grade.

Ten years later, 2nd Lt. Brittany Oligney is fully engulfed in her future, training at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program. She began undergraduate pilot training March 10.

From the time she flew her uncle's plane, the 22-year-old Katy, Texas, native has had a twinkle in her eye and an ear-to-ear grin because she knew a career in aviation, in some form, was her goal.

No other option
When asked about whether or not she thought about another career, there was no hesitation in the future combat pilot's answer.

"No. I've always been fairly certain of what I wanted to do," she said. "There have never been any serious options besides this."

After earning her private pilots' license at age 16, Lieutenant Oligney began to seriously consider her future plans. She said she knew she wanted a degree in aeronautics, but wasn't sure how she'd get there. She wanted the flying aspect to be part of her future, too.

After speaking with a commercial airline, she learned that the majority of their pilots have a military aviation background. That's when the U.S. Air Force Academy became an option.

"F-16 versus a 737 just doesn't compare," Lieutenant Oligney said of the possible flying careers. "(The Air Force has) much better aircraft; much better missions."

She said the flight time and pay might be more beneficial in the commercial airline industry, but the bigger picture isn't the same.

"In the military, you're actually doing something that's affecting people," she said. "Doing something that has substance and meaning."

Joined at the wing
Lieutenant Oligney graduated from the academy with a degree in aeronautical engineering in May 2007. Before she left, she and a classmate, now 2nd Lt. Margaret Frash, had put their stamp on the academy's Department of Aeronautics when they won the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics international student paper competition in January.

The paper focused on a joined-wing concept for an unmanned aerial vehicle designed by Ronald Houck from Iron Hawk Enterprises. The theory behind the biplane-like prototype, Lieutenant Oligney said, was to reduce the amount of induced drag commonly caused by an aircraft's wingtips.

"The concept was there," she said. "It just wasn't executed well enough to be effective."

The aerodynamic duo began tests and modifications on the joined-wing concept during their senior year at the academy with hopes of getting the prototype closer to being a viable product. Although they weren't able to get the desired results from the project, future academy classes will have the opportunity to finish what Lieutenants Oligney and Frash started.

"I wish we had more time," Lieutenant Oligney said. "There were so many things we wanted to change with the baseline design."

She added that it would be "mind boggling" if someday in the near future she saw her work lead to a usable airframe.

The sky's the limit
Barely a second lieutenant in the Air Force, Lieutenant Oligney has already received international accolades, admitting she didn't expect to win when she and Lieutenant Frash took on the project. But she does know there is something more out that in her Air Force career that she wants.

Her first step, though, is completing the very competitive and exhaustive 55-week program at the 80th Flying Training Wing.

"(The other student pilots are) really driven," she said. "Really excited about what they are doing here."

She said she made it through the first test by getting a pilot training slot. The next was making it through the very competitive process of being selected to train with ENJJPT.

"This is the place to go for fighters and bombers," she said.

Other future goals include wanting to be a test pilot, but she said she will always do something with aircraft. She's known that since the 7th grade.

Right now, her eyes are set on walking across the stage next spring and getting her pilot wings. The infamous "assignment night" will roll around her class, but she isn't too picky about what airframe she moves on to after graduation.

"Anything that flies fast and is combat oriented works for me," Lieutenant Oligney said, still with that twinkle in her eyes.

After all, she is living her dream.