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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Marine Corps pilots students to the sky

Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat

Capt. Rick Birt, a pilot in the United States Marine Corps, took a group of four students and one professor up in a King Air 200, a twin-propellor aircraft, during a training session in which the passengers each took turns controlling the plane during mid-flight.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat Capt. Rick Birt, a pilot in the United States Marine Corps, took a group of four students and one professor up in a King Air 200, a twin-propellor aircraft, during a training session in which the passengers each took turns controlling the plane during mid-flight.

UA aerospace engineering senior Breton Homewood grabbed the yoke of the plane and made a right turn over the Tucson sky Thursday morning.

“”It was great,”” he said. “”I was a little nervous turning but (the pilot) guided me pretty well.””

Homewood, who skipped class to fly, was one of five passengers, mostly UA students, aboard the King Air 200 aircraft as part of the Marine Corp Flight Orientation Program, which allows college students and faculty to fly a plane for free with the help of a Marine Corps pilot.

The nationwide event takes place twice a year, in the beginning of the fall semester and mid-spring semester, and is funded by the federal government as part of the Marine Corps budget, said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Johnny Luevano.

The Tucson program flies out of the Tucson Jet Center, 6720 S. Plumer Ave., and is scheduled in sessions, each lasting about 90 minutes, over the course of one or two days. Reservations are taken on a first-come first-serve basis.

“”I had to turn away about 10 to 15 people,”” Luevano said.

Students are taken on-board the flight in groups of about six to ensure everyone gets a chance to fly, he said.

Luevano said 31 percent of officers throughout the U.S. Marine Corps are in aviation and between 55 to 60 percent of Marine Corp candidates come straight from college without military experience.

“”The goal is to make people aware (the Marine Corps) have a flight program and to give them an experience as to what flying is like,”” said U.S. Marine Corps Capt. Rick Birt, aviation assistant for Officer Procurement.

During a brief introduction, Birt, who currently pilots every flight for the Marine Corp Flight Orientation Program in the district, instructs students and faculty to “”try to fly straight and level and be real gentle on the control.””

He informed passengers Ziploc bags are kept onboard for anyone who may feel sick.

“”I don’t like it when that happens,”” he said.

Birt, who has been a pilot for six years, has been working in the program for the past two years and has one year left.

Becoming a pilot in the U.S. Marine Corps was “”probably the hardest thing I did,”” Birt said. “”But the most rewarding.””

About half the people who participate in the program just want to have fun while the other half are interested in possibly pursuing a career as a pilot, he said.

Political science senior Erin Sperling said she saw a pamphlet for the program in the Student Union Memorial Center on Wednesday and made a reservation.

“”I’ve always wanted to fly a plane,”” she said. “”I figured it was a free chance to fly and I wanted to take advantage of that.””

Sperling said if she were going to enter the military she would choose aviation.

“”I think it’s a bit empowering (for women),”” she said. “”In the military there are still some limitations as far as what women can do, especially when it comes to combat. I think piloting is a much more level playing field.””

Sperling said after flying she is thinking about a career as a Marine Corps pilot.

“”Before I went up I was just going to do it for fun,”” she said. “”Now I’m definitely going to consider it (becoming a pilot). It was the most exhilarating feeling.””

Pima Community College student Tyler Ashton said he has been interested in joining the Marine Corps for a while and after flying he wants to become a Marine Corps pilot.

“”It was great,”” he said. “”It was hard, I have a lot to learn.  I felt it in my stomach whenever I did anything wrong — that little drop feeling.””

Homewood said while he enjoyed the flight, but he doesn’t want to join the Marine Corps.

“”I wouldn’t personally join,”” he said. “”I don’t know if I’m the right person for the job. I feel like I belong on the side of building planes.””

Although he won’t be joining the Marine Corps, Homewood said the program “”encouraged me to get a private pilot license to fly as a hobby.””

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