An event that changed my life
A Dream Denied
A newly minted second lieutenant, I was assigned to Class 61E, United States Air Force Pilot Training Program — my dream since grammar school. “61 Echo” was the first class in the Air Force’s Unified Pilot Training Program, where Air Force instructors taught the entire course in jet aircraft, the T-37 and T-33.
How I remember the day of my first flight. I was ecstatic when I walked among the neat rows of parked aircraft in my flight suit, carrying my helmet, my parachute thumping my butt. The whine of jet engines starting up, the smell of exhaust, and being part of this scene were like fireworks exploding in my chest.
Sitting in line, moving toward our turn on the runway, my instructor kept up a conversation that was a mixture of instructions and small talk. Through the intercom over the gentle hiss of the oxygen system, we began a relationship.
“Number 1 on the active, you’re cleared for takeoff.” The twin engines responded smoothly to my pressure on the throttle. We began to roll, gained speed, and lifted off. The comfortable ‘clunk’ of the landing gear relaxing as the wings picked up the aircraft’s weight told me we were airborne. This was real. I was going to be an Air Force pilot.
My time in the air felt like a teenager on his first date. Each mission focused on a specific aspect of the flying craft. Still, there was time to look outside and appreciate the majesty of the temple around us. Towering columns of cotton-white cumulus clouds supported a cerulean canopy over a carpet of emerald farmland. The privilege of being here always brought a lump to my throat.
My first shock came a few weeks into the program. My instructor announced that he was being transferred. Our group would be dispersed among other instructors. Then he was gone.
My new instructor, a lieutenant younger than the captain I had just lost, had a different personality. Our relationship started with him declaring that I had to refly a critical evaluation mission I had just completed. That unnerved me; it did not go well.
Flying changed. Friendly banter and encouraging instructions became curt commands interspersed with sharp criticism. My outlook and performance deteriorated; mistakes happened with increasing frequency and compounded upon themselves.
On a date I should have recorded, my performance was unusually good, and my instructor was uncommonly cordial. But we returned to the field early, which was not a good sign. Along the taxiway, he stopped the aircraft, raised the canopy, and got out. Turning to me, he said, “Twice around the pattern, then full stop. Then, park it.”
SOLO! The day I feared would never come arrived as a total surprise. As I took off, the sound of the twin jet engines under me made the grandest symphony of my life. I was alone in a jet aircraft. Looking out at the wing, the letters U S A F appeared as I had never seen them before. I was immensely proud. This airplane flies perfectly without an instructor—what a glorious day. I’ll make it.
Alas, not to be. That flight was a burst of sunlight in a continuing storm — an agonizing peek into a world I would never inhabit. The misery that followed is a blur: a few more flights punctuated by mistakes, the check ride, the board, the official notice. It was done.
Mercifully, my reassignment came quickly. But those few days overflowed with disbelief and shame. I could hardly form the words. I washed out! I had been given an opportunity offered to very few. I had met the first real challenge of my life and failed.
I would recover; I had to recover. Life continues. I had no Plan B. I had to recreate Plan A.
Word Count (MS Word): 633
Word Count (Text Analyzer): 641
Readability Consensus (based on seven readability formulas)
Word count: 639
Grade Level: 6
Reading Level: Fairly easy to read.
Reader’s Age: 10-11 yrs. old (Fifth and Sixth graders)
Written for the 2022/2023 Common Application Essay Prompt 2: "The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?" (Word Count: 250 – 650 words)