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Pilot for a Day

Anna Cumbie learns how to connect her mask to the oxygen system of an A-10 Fighter. The 141st Air Refueling Wing invited Anna and her sister Madeline to become honorary pilots during the Wing’s Pilot for a Day training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Anna Cumbie learns how to connect her mask to the oxygen system of an A-10 Fighter. The 141st Air Refueling Wing invited Anna and her sister Madeline to become honorary pilots during the Wing’s Pilot for a Day training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Madeline Cumbie sits in the cockpit of an A-10 Fighter.  The 141st Air Refueling Wing invited Anna and her sister Madeline to become honorary pilots during the Wing’s Pilot for a Day training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Madeline Cumbie sits in the cockpit of an A-10 Fighter. The 141st Air Refueling Wing invited Anna and her sister Madeline to become honorary pilots during the Wing’s Pilot for a Day training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Anna and Madeline Cumbie, accompanied by their parents, Brian and Jenny, visited the Fairchild AFB Fire Department during Pilot for a Day training. The two sisters were selected to participate in the 141st Air Refueling Wings honorary pilot training program May 30, 2012 in Spokane, WA. The girls received fire hats, toured the facility and rode in a fire truck. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Anna and Madeline Cumbie, accompanied by their parents, Brian and Jenny, visited the Fairchild AFB Fire Department during Pilot for a Day training. The two sisters were selected to participate in the 141st Air Refueling Wings honorary pilot training program May 30, 2012 in Spokane, WA. The girls received fire hats, toured the facility and rode in a fire truck. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Col. Richard Kelly, 141st Air Refueling Wing Commander, places pilot’s wings on Madeline Cumbie as her sister Anna looks on during the Pilot for a Day graduation ceremony.  The two sisters were selected to participate in the wing’s honorary pilot training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Col. Richard Kelly, 141st Air Refueling Wing Commander, places pilot’s wings on Madeline Cumbie as her sister Anna looks on during the Pilot for a Day graduation ceremony. The two sisters were selected to participate in the wing’s honorary pilot training program May 30, 2012 at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, WA. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Michael Stewart/Released)

Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. -- Two female pilot candidates were accepted to train during the unit's Pilot for a Day program May 30, 2012.

The two candidates, Anna, 9, and Madeline, 5, know each other very well, in fact, they spend a lot of time together -- they are sisters -- and they are both fighting cancer. Life has thrown one challenge after another at the Cumbie family.

Anna was first diagnosed with standard-risk acute lymphoblastic leukemia March 2, 2007. Madeline was diagnosed April 29, 2010 with the same type of cancer.

"Maddy is going in for surgery in six days so the 'Pilot for a Day' training really gave her something to look forward to," said Jennie Cumbie, mother of the pilot candidates. "It was a much needed distraction."

The girls' day began with the issuing of flight suits complete with embroidered name tags and unit patches. The aspiring pilots had to complete a full day of hands on training in order to receive their "wings."

Their first stop was Aircrew Flight Equipment where they trained with life preservers, slid down an emergency escape slide and used a compass. Their instructors were very impressed.

"The students were highly motivated and enthusiastic," said Senior Master Sgt. Donald Belfils, Aircrew Flight Equipment Superintendent. "They picked things up quickly and completed each new task with flying colors."

Next they visited the Control Tower where Anna and Maddy watched two 190th Fighter Squadron A-10 Warthogs from Boise, Idaho, perform aerial maneuvers before landing and parking near base operations.

The Cumbie family made their way to the flightline to meet these guest pilots.
With arms stretched wide leaning into a steady wind, Maddy did her best impression of a flying squirrel as the family walked along the flightline toward the aircraft. Representing the 141st, the girls' presented each A-10 pilot with a unit coin. Their thank-you was an opportunity most children don't get -- to put on a helmet and sit in the cockpit of a U.S. Air Force fighter jet. The girls' eyes widened as the pilots did their best to explain the sea of gauges and knobs located in the cramped single-seat cockpit.

"As a parent, it's always fun to see your kids excited and experiencing new things," said Brian Cumbie, father of the young trainees. "It was easy to see they were having fun."

After the visit with the pilots, it was time to move on to the next training phase, the Fire Department. The family was greeted by several firemen who handed the girls a plastic gift bag filled with pencils, rulers and a junior fire fighter hat. Smokey the Bear, Sparky the fire dog and Monty the oversized inflatable fireman welcomed the girls too.

Anna said this was the favorite part of the day for her. Without hesitation, she climbed into the cab of the fire truck, put on her headset and with authority said, "Breaker, Breaker" into the trucks radio handset. They took a short ride in the fire truck and a tested the trucks water spraying capabilities. The girls' took a break from training and stopped by the "Funspot" on base to "refuel" themselves with chicken fingers and corndogs. They both were now ready for some flying time at the base flight simulator lab.

Each candidate practiced flying a KC-135 refueler and operating a refueling boom.

Anna earned the call sign "Smash" for the way she expertly placed the boom through the canopy of several simulated F-15 fighters while practicing her refueling skills.

Maddy earned the name "Smiles" because the sides of her mouth almost never lowered to a horizontal position. After getting their call signs, members of the 141st and 92d Air Refueling Wings joined together at the graduation room to wait for the trainees. The room filled with applause as the girls entered the room with their family. After some congratulatory words from Col. Richard Kelly, 141st ARW commander, he placed the coveted pilot's wings on the girls' flight suits. The honorary pilots received more patches and a certificate of training. When asked if she had fun, Maddy summed the entire experience up with three words "this was epic."