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Kids get thrills at Hill

Make a Wish helps put 8 children in F-16 flight simulator

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HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Eight children whose medical complications have put them through more twists and turns than a fighter in a dogfight got to be a "Pilot for a Day" Tuesday as guests of the 388th Fighter Wing.

For 9-year-old twins Caden and Carter Erickson from Kaysville, who have both completed treatment for leukemia, a highlight of the day was the time they spent in an F-16 simulator, taking off, landing, shooting missiles and pulling the ejector handle on a crash landing.

"Things like these give them a break for a day," said the twins' father, Troy.

The kids ate lunch with the crew of the 4th Fighter Squadron, spent time in the simulator, received kid-sized flight suits and ended the day watching the Air Force's Viper West demonstration team put an F-16 through its paces above the base.

Participants and their families were lined up with the program, which has a charter at Hill, through the Make a Wish Foundation. First Lt. Beth Woodward said the periodic event is possible because of donations and the support of the wing's staff. "We just really want to show our support for the families and all that they have been through," she said.

Pilots Zach Manning and Tom Graham, both captains with the 388th who were recently deployed in Iraq, helped put the event together as volunteers. "The whole day is about the kids. It's a great opportunity for us to reach out into the community," Graham said.

Brandon Ekins, who is 9, said he got to shoot two missiles during his turn in the simulator. He finished chemotherapy three years ago and is doing well.

Marcus Russell, 16, from Cache County, is still spending a little more time with doctors. He knows his military aircraft and is anxious to take stories of the day back home.

"I told my friends that if I got a flight suit I'd wear it to school tomorrow, and I will," he said. His request to Make a Wish was to fly in a military aircraft. The simulator, used to train fighter pilots, gave him a chance to try the cockpit on for size while shooting at boats and tanks.

Viper West pilot Capt. Russ Piggott earns his pay demonstrating the F-16's capabilities at community events and air shows. He can't see the reaction of the audience when he's pulling a nine-G turn, even though he's only 500 feet above the crowd at times, but he does get to interact with visitors on the ground after the demonstration flight. "To see the reaction of the kids — that's the greatest," he said.

E-mail: sfidel@desnews.com