ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. --
According to the Federal Aviation Administration, there are about 600,000 active pilots throughout the United States, but that number has been gradually declining throughout the past decade. To work towards an interest in aviation careers, commercial, private and military aviation professionals teamed up to host the third annual Aerospace and Aviation Day, Jan. 25, 2020, at Orlando Sanford International Airport, Fla.
For the first time, 97th Air Mobility Wing C-17 Globemaster III and KC-135 Stratotanker crews from Altus Air Force Base, Okla., attended this event to help educate, recruit and inspire more than 6,000 elementary through college level students.
This event focused on inspiring students from across the Seminole County School District, in central Fla., and encouraged them to their dreams in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and aviation, by meeting real-world professionals in a hands-on experience.
“I love going to these types of events because it’s awesome seeing the children's reactions to every little thing,” said Maj. Andrew Mazzarelli, a C-17 instructor pilot assigned to the 97th AMW. “Answering all their questions, seeing all the ‘wows’ and their eyes lighting up as soon as they step inside the aircraft - it’s something that will never get old.”
At this all-day event, C-17 and KC-135 crews used their jets as static displays for students to tour. As families toured inside the aircrafts, attendees received the opportunity to get to know the crew, airframe and the wide variety of aviation careers the Air Force has to offer.
“We are building the future of the Air Force every time we come to an event like this,” said Capt. Damian Franz, a C-17 instructor pilot assigned to the 97th AMW. “For many of the young children, this might be their first time on a military aircraft, or even on an aircraft this size. I know this is something that they won’t ever forget, and this reassures me that we are making a difference in their lives.”
Each crew from 97th AMW was comprised of Airmen in different careers, including loadmasters, boom operators and instructor pilots. This variety allowed students to explore the vast possibilities of an Air Force career.
“For some of us here, events like these are what started our passion for aviation and a career in the Air Force,” said Mazzarelli. “The ability to share the love that I have for this aircraft with a community is amazing. I think it’s extremely important that the Air Force continues to represent, educate and inspire young children to do great things at events like these.”
Pilots and attendees from major commercial airline companies were also in attendance at the event. Similar to the 97th AMW crews, these professionals opened the doors of their aircraft, allowing curious families to experience what it takes to make an aircraft fly.
Additionally, guest speakers Taryn Fleet, Allegiant Air Airbus pilot, and retired Lt. Col. Christine Mau, F-35 Lightning II contract instructor pilot, spoke to students at the event about the benefits of an aviation career.
Representatives from the Mighty 97th gave young aviators a valuable opportunity to explore the possibilities of an aviation career, with the hopes of lighting a spark inside young minds.