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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Marines show UA students how to fly

    Janice Biancavilla
    Janice Biancavilla/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Marine pilot Dave Mathes demonstrates flying techniques during a Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program flight. The program is designed to offer first hand flying experience for people interested in joining.

    A black arrow circles clockwise as numbers climb or fall with the plane’s elevation. A yellow arrow oscillates from east to west while the plane banks farther and farther to bring it around back toward the airport.

    “It’s just like driving a car,” Marine pilot Dave Mathes said. But unlike most steering wheels, pushing the yoke forward or back controls the plane’s pitch. Thick hot air from the cabin forms beads of sweat on the brow, but it doesn’t matter to the pilots in the cockpit: You’re flying.

    In the Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program, participants get five minutes to fly a civilian plane with an active-duty Marine pilot like Mathes, all to show them why flying is a little more complicated than “Top Gun.”

    For one day last week, UA students like history graduate student Tanya Chantara got the chance to experience piloting a plane.

    Chantara fit her first time flying between a breakfast of Cheerios and turning in a midterm. As a reservist for the military, she’s already tasted some of the life of a pilot, visiting Afghanistan in the winter and chatting with actives in the program about the skills of cooks in the service. After she finishes her degree, she’s contracted to enter flight school with the Marines.

    “It’s a much better program than when I went through,” said Capt.Patrick McFarland, a Marine Corps recruiting officer. McFarland, a UA alumnus, said when he went through the program, students only got to talk a little and sit, nothing near the experience students get now.

    There’s no service academy directly related to the Marine Corps, and so other branches of the military recruit from the academies. The Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program was started to fulfill that need for pilots.

    “You’d be surprised to know that people come out here and don’t even know the Marines has an air force. You think Marines, you think ground,” said Marine pilot Dave Mathes. “We got lots of planes and we need people to fly them.”

    Mathes did tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Yemen in aerial refueling as well as food, water and ammunition to soldiers on the ground and also some bombing missions. He said that, though life in the Marines carries a lot of responsibility, it can also be a lot of fun.

    He said that giving people knowledge before they sign up for a branch of the military — and what each can offer — is vital.

    They learn numbers like 30 percent (the number of Marine Corps officers who are pilots), 20 years (the minimum length of time of service needed before retirement) and an additional $820 (the cap on supplemental income pilots get per month on top of the base salary for the hazard pay of flying).

    As for limitations on women in combat, the answer comes during the session too: There are none. Anyone can garner guaranteed a spot in flight school once they commit, and there’s no necessity to commit until a student is ready.

    “You’ve got young, enlisted Marines out there that are going to be under your charge, and if you are going to be entrusted with our most precious resource, which is our young Marines, and you don’t want to be there, you are not going to be an effective leader,” Mathes said. “We just want people that want to be here.”

    That’s what Marine Corps Flight Orientation Program hopes to catch — people like Chantara who want to be there: People who want to become Marine pilots.

    “I’d be a boldfaced liar if I said you are getting rich flying planes in the Marine Corps but you are going to make a good living,” Mathes said. “The last bonus is fun. My first tour I saw Portugal, Spain, Greece, Scotland, all over Europe, Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, you know. Completely autonomous, doing the missions the Marines Corps wants me to do. Man to man, man to woman — it’s a great time.”

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