Video: Boys become fighter pilots for the day at RAF Lakenheath
TWO boys who have been fighting serious illnesses experienced what it is like to be a fighter pilot at RAF Lakenheath in west Suffolk yesterday.
Dawson Davidson, 11, from Mildenhall, and Jake Snowling, 15, from Redgrave, visited the US Air Force base for a day packed with surprises, including a flight suit made especially for them and up-close viewings of an F-15 Eagle and HH-60 Pave Hawk.
Dawson, who attends Mildenhall College, was diagnosed in 2010 with acute myeloid leukaemia and in April underwent a bone marrow transplant at a children’s hospital in Bristol.
Half-way through the Pilot for a Day event, hosted by the 493rd Fighter Squadron, he said: “It’s been really good. It’s not finished yet. I have been to a simulator. We had a talk.”
His mother Cheryl Feltner, 34, said: “I think it’s amazing and it just gives him a big confidence boost.”
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She explained her son had been out of school for almost a year due to the illness and following the transplant he was not able to be around many people to prevent him picking up an infection.
Miss Feltner said: “This has given him the opportunity to take a big step forward. It’s great these children have the opportunity to be offered something like this because they have been through such a tough journey. It’s just amazing.”
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She said “so far so good” following Dawson’s transplant, which was made possible thanks to a 34-year-old lady donor from America.
“These are all the little milestones we keep coming across. He’s now going back to school.”
Jake, who was diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2011, said he had loved the day so far.
“I liked the simulator - that was probably my favourite bit. I liked to go in the helicopter. I have always wanted to go in one.”
His mother Donna, 49, said her son had been “quite a sporty lad, never had any problems before now”.
She said when she took him to Specsavers in Diss to have his eyes tested they recommended he went to hospital and the brain tumour was diagnosed.
She said the day at RAF Lakenheath had been “wonderful” for Jake, who attends Hartismere School in Eye.
The Pilot for a Day programme was started in March last year by Major Jason Bianchi, 439rd Fighter Squadron pilot, with the aim of assisting children in local communities who are fighting life-threatening illnesses or conditions by providing a day of fun and allowing for a break from the routine doctor and hospital visits.
First Lieutenant Everett Probasco said Maj Bianchi had links with Addenbrooke’s, which suggests children suitable for the programme.
1st Lt Probasco said: “It’s definitely to help them out as well as a community outreach.”
He said during the day the boys did everything short of actually flying an aircraft.
Miss Feltner would encourage people to join the Anthony Nolan Register. Visit www.anthonynolan.org