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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Cheerleaders fly with Marines

UA cheerleaders pose triumphantly with Capt. Rick Birt (center) at the Tucson Jet Center after taking turns flying the King Air 200 on Thursday, Sept 30.
UA cheerleaders pose triumphantly with Capt. Rick Birt (center) at the Tucson Jet Center after taking turns flying the King Air 200 on Thursday, Sept 30.

Six UA cheerleaders exchange easy conversation and off-color jokes as the King Air 200 slowly taxis down the runway behind the Tucson Jet Center. The engine gradually gets louder and the cramped cabin becomes stifled with heat and excitement.

“”This thing is like a flying sauna,”” said Chris Beadles, a chemistry sophomore and UA cheerleader.

The cheerleaders are there as part of the Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program, an event allowing college students the chance to fly for free with the help of a Marine Corps pilot.

Capt. Johnny Luevano is the Tucson selection officer and liaisons with area schools to find potential candidates for the Marine Officer Program, a collaborative effort between the UA and the Marine Corps to provide students with the option to enter the officer program. He called the UA his number one priority school and said there are 40 to 50 candidates on campus this year.  

“”We provide students with the opportunity to get a commission as a second lieutenant,”” Luevano said. “”They can go through the program and decide whether they want to sign on for active duty afterwards.””

While today’s passengers are not involved in the officer program, Luevano said most of the program’s best candidates come from similar athletic organizations and clubs on campus.

“”It just seems like a natural fit,”” Luevano said. “”The big part of our program is physical fitness — it’s a really, really tough and physically demanding course — you have to make the mental commitment to fitness. If you’re working out already, then that’s not too big of a change.””

Capt. Rick Birt, aviator assistant for Officer Procurement,  is flying the UA students today, just as he has twice a year for the past three years.

“”(To land this job) you either have to be lucky, you have to know somebody or you have to bribe somebody,”” Birt said. “”And I have two of those.””

Birt said that this experience, though costly, is an ideal way to appeal to students who are considering becoming pilots one day.

“”What better way to see if it’s really for you than to experience it?”” Birt asked. “”There’s no better substitute to experience.””  

As the cheerleaders relax, the plane shoots violently upward in takeoff, startling all aboard. One passenger, physiology senior Xavier Vazquez, compares it to “”Superman: The Escape,”” a roller coaster at the Six Flags Magic Mountain theme park in California.   

Five of the passengers are in the usual seating area of the plane, but UA cheerleader Amariz Mendoza, a sophomore majoring in business and economics, sits in the copilot’s seat. After the plane levels off, Mendoza takes the controls.

“”Please don’t kill us,”” Vazquez said in a soft undertone.

The plane suddenly shoots upward and executes a barrel roll, much to the excitement of everyone onboard.

“”They really need to give us some more warning before they do that again,”” Vazquez said.

“”That’s part of the fun is not knowing,”” said Ramon Murillo, a senior studying Spanish and economics and UA cheerleader.

All of the cheerleaders took their turn at the wheel alongside Birt, executing simple turns as their comrades provided commentary and critiqued how smooth their maneuvers were.

Emma Garner, a sophomore majoring in family studies and human development and UA cheerleader, took her turn next, apologizing with every jolt and bump that rocked the plane.

“”What if I just cranked it up, like as hard as I could?”” Jordan Benes, a psychology sophomore and UA cheerleader, asked. “”Would you guys be mad?””

“”Uh, yes,”” said Vazquez, who had never been on a plane until his freshman year of college.

Benes didn’t make good on his threat, executing several uneventful bank turns.

“”That was pretty smooth, huh?”” Benes asked, winking, upon returning to his seat.

Benes, Murillo, and Beadles led the rallying cry for Birt to perform another barrel roll, and Benes used a cell phone to record the inside of the cockpit as the plane spun completely around.

After a smooth landing, Birt pulled off his headset, turned around and asked smiling “”So, who wants to be a Marine Corps pilot?””

“”We all do,”” the cheerleaders said.

Birt laughed. “”You all should,”” he said.

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