Volunteer Regional Coordinator for Texas and Oklahoma AirLifeLine
Jeremy is a bright young man in his very early teens who was accidentally burned over
a good portion of his face and body two years ago. He and his mother, Debra, regularly travel to
and from their home near Alamosa, Colorado for Jeremy's treatments at the Shriners Burn Institute in Galveston, Texas.
I had just landed at Abilene after flying Jeremy and his mother from Galveston. We were to meet another
AirLifeLine pilot, Keith, who was flying from Colorado Springs to meet us and then fly Debra and Jeremy home to Alamosa. As we taxied to
the Abilene Aero FBO* ramp, we noticed three huge military helicopters, several
executive jets, and a number of private planes.
On entering the lobby, we saw about twelve young Air Force officers in their light blue flight suits, lounging
about, but mainly getting somewhat organized to jog over to the nearby airline terminal restaurant for lunch. While waiting for Keith
to arrive, Jeremy and Debra sat down on the sofas near some of the seated officers. I walked over to the front desk, a few feet away,
to order fuel for my plane and to arrange to use the courtesy golf cart to go the same restaurant.
I heard one of the officers, a Captain, who had noticed the red but healing skin
grafts on Jeremy's face, ask Jeremy in a pleasant command voice, "Young man, how were you burned?" I looked at Jeremy as he hesitated to
answer. I never ask traveling patients such questions in fear of triggering bad memories. The Captain rose from his chair, walked over
to Jeremy's side, and gently explained that the reason he asked that question was because he had been similarly burned in a helicopter
fire about four years ago. He thought that talking about his experience might better help Jeremy get through the long healing process.
The Captain went on to relate how he had been in the helicopter while it was being refueled on the ground. Because of an improper fuel
hose connection, a spray of the jet fuel had entered the extremely hot turbine chamber of the engine. An intense fire resulted, some of
which entered the cabin in which the Captain was trapped. Rescuers finally got the Captain out to safety, but he was badly burned about
his body and head. The Air Force had then cared for him in some of the finest burn treatment centers in the nation.
As he was telling this, I observed that the Captain was standing straight and spare,
and that his face, hands and other exposed areas were healed completely, just as if he had never been so badly burned in the first place!
I could see that Jeremy and his mother appreciated his story and were uplifted by the interchange.
The Captain then asked Jeremy what career he thought he would like to pursue. Immediately,
Jeremy said, "I want to be a pilot." At that point, another officer, a second lieutenant in pilot training, who had been listening, asked
Jeremy if he would like to see the cockpit of his plane. Of course, Jeremy, his mother, and I simultaneously responded with a resounding
"yes!" So we trooped off to see the plane with Debra only stopping to retrieve her camera. The four of us climbed into the lieutenant's
plane, a Beechcraft B-400, a large executive type jet with two engines at the rear of the fuselage. It was a military version, specially
modified for Air Force training purposes. It had absolutely the very latest "glass cockpit" which displays many functions on a number of cathode ray
color tubes via computers. The Lieutenant invited Jeremy to sit in the pilot's seat, while he sat down in the copilot's seat. I sat
in the jump seat in back of them to observe while Debra took pictures of them. The Lieutenant proceeded to turn on all the electronics,
saying that he couldn't do this very long because it would exhaust the battery power which had to be conserved to start the engines. The
cockpit lit up like a Christmas tree and the lieutenant gave Jeremy a brief overview of the instrumentation and other control functions.
Jeremy was able to grasp much of what was said, because he had conversed with the pilots on many of his AirLifeLine trips. The Lieutenant
then turned everything off and joined us outside where pictures were taken of all by all.
Walking back to the lounge, the Lieutenant and Jeremy had a lively conversation about
how the latter could become a pilot. I remember that the last thing the Lieutenant said to Jeremy was, "Study hard in school, get good grades
and stay away from drugs."
Later, after Keith, Jeremy and Debra had taken off for Colorado, I taxied past the
B-400 on my way to the runway. I noticed that the FBO had hooked up a trailer-mounted electrical generator that was very busy charging the
batteries of the Lieutenant's plane.