Day as a pilot fulfills boy’s wish

MILL CREEK — Eleven-year-old Carl Hess was given a chance that many people never get: To have a dream fulfilled.

But then he had to make up his mind on just what his wish might be.

“His mom, his sister and I threw out all kinds of ideas,” his stepdad, James Sullivan, said.

“He went back and forth on so many things.”

His parents suggested a trip to Disneyland. “No, no, no,” Carl said. “Something amazing that I could not do in my entire life.”

The debate was settled one day after seeing a B-17 at Seattle’s Museum of Flight. “That’s what I want to be — a World War II pilot for a day,” he told his dad.

He wanted the experience to include training on how to survive a crash landing, how to build a fire, how to signal to be saved. And, he wanted to imagine that in his role as a World War II pilot, he was based at Pearl Harbor.

On Monday, Carl and his dad spent the day with the 62nd Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. The training included experience in a simulator unit piloting a C-17 cargo aircraft, outdoor survival skills, parachute training and that signature dish of the military, Meals Ready to Eat.

On Friday, Carl and his family fly to Hawaii where he will get five more days of fighter pilot experiences. Most of the details are being kept a secret until he arrives.

The granting of Carl’s wishes were coordinated through Make-A-Wish, the nonprofit organization that fulfills the wishes of children with life-threatening medical problems. Carl, a sixth-grader at Everett’s Heatherwood Middle School, was diagnosed with leukemia in January 2011.

“He takes chemotherapy every single day, and once a week even more, and once a month even more, and every three months even more,” his father said.

His son has been undergoing treatment for 18 months, a regimen scheduled to continue for the next two years.

As Carl and his dad were driven in a military van to the site where the C-17 simulator was based, they passed a field where training is conducted. “How many push-ups can you do?” asked Master Sgt. Charles Pfenning, who specializes in survival training.

Some of the skills used in survival training haven’t changed that much since World War II, Pfenning said. “Not too many people know how to light a fire with a spark.”

Carl prepared for his military training by reading “Unbroken,” the story of a World War II crew whose bomber crashed into the Pacific and were later taken captive by the Japanese and held as prisoners of war.

Carl and his dad climbed up a flight of stairs about two stories high to enter the white, dome-shaped simulator. The $20 million machine was one of four on the base, said Lou Matz, site manager of the simulator complex.

The machines can simulate nearly any circumstance that pilots might encounter, from in-flight refueling to emergency procedures such as fires in the cabin and failure of one or more of the plane’s engines.

Pilots can even fly simulated sorties with people using simulators at other bases, he said.

Carl spent more than an hour in the simulator. About eight minutes into the flight, the machine began gently pitching on its six hydraulic legs. As he gained more confidence, the simulator bobbed more steeply up and down and side to side.

When the door opened Carl walked down the stairs grinning as only a happy kid can. “Whoa!” he said of the experience.

Their session included guiding the plane between two big mountains, a touch-and-go landing and being refueled by a tanker.

With the computer’s ability to replicate military bases and terrain of many spots around the globe, Carl even got a sneak peek at the Hawaiian beach of Waikiki.

His favorite part of all: “I made it go upside down — with their permission — but I pulled it off,” he said. “We didn’t crash.”

Sharon Salyer: 425-339-3486 or

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