POWNAL — Physical ailments will likely keep Kyle Dupuis from fulfilling his dream of joining the military, but they didn’t stop him from donning a flight suit and becoming “Pilot for a Day” at an Air Force base in Arizona.
Kyle, a 14-year-old freshman at Mount Anthony Union High School, has a rare condition called congenital adrenal hyperplasia that keeps his body from regulating the amount of androgen it produces. In addition, Kyle is diagnosed with autism, anxiety, insulin resistance, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and sleep disturbances. He has also needed corrective surgery on his legs and feet to lengthen his Achilles’ tendons, leaving him with limited mobility.
Through an opportunity presented by Kids Wish Network, Kyle and his family were able to forget about doctor’s office visits the second they stepped foot on the Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Tucson, where his uncle, Staff Sgt. James Brumbaugh, is stationed.
Upon arrival, Kyle received a flight suit and a 355th Training Squadron patch with his name on it before being asked to recite the Oath of Office.
He was then given a full day of activities — starting with a morning meeting for Air Force pilots (he and his family were told they were not allowed to attend a second meeting members of the Air Force then attended).
“I wasn’t allowed to go in their other meeting because it was classified,” said the 14-year-old from Pownal.
Kyle had the opportunity to sit inside the cockpit of an A-10 and then equip one with a mock missile made of concrete and metal. Those experiences were great he said, although they paled in comparison to his favorite part of the trip, when he got to fly an A-10 training simulator. Comfortable inside the cockpit of the simulator, Kyle took the $1 million piece of machinery on a “support mission” over Tucson during which he engaged in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat on a screen in front of him.
“I got to take out tanks, but the thing that finally got me was a SAM missile launcher, a surface-to-air missile launcher,” he said. “I was able to land. I was thinking I could still fly, I’ve heard stories of these things flying with only one engine. They told me to land, I didn’t want to. I wanted to get that thing so bad,” he said, replaying the scenario over in his head as he sat at his grandmother’s kitchen table with a face full of excitement.
The simulator used to train pilots was unlike anything Kyle had ever experienced.
“It’s nothing like a video game,” Kyle said. “It’s so much more accurate. There’s more detail.”
Kyle also received a personal tour of the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Center, often referred to as the “Boneyard,” where more than 4,000 aircraft from all branches of the U.S. military are kept.
On the tour, Kyle saw servicemen working on the wings of a Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II.
“I think the interesting thing about this plane is it was the last plane Fairchild Republic made and they were known for making the P-47 Thunderbolt. They call this one the Thunderbolt II, or the warthog is it’s nickname,” Kyle said as he pointed to a picture of the plane signed by members of the Air Force who he met.
As a tour guide walked them through the Boneyard, Kyle’s grandmother, Mary Dupuis, said Kyle rattled off the names of the planes and details about the history of the aircraft that even the guide didn’t know.
Kyle, who is an honor student, said he’s always enjoyed reading books and articles online about the military and wars.
Although his autism and plates in his feet may prevent it, Kyle said he still dreams of joining the military.
“I don’t know if that will happen, but I have just wanted to for a long time,” he said.
If that opportunity is not in his future, Kyle will still be able to say he’s been a pilot for a day — which is a day more than most.
“It was just so fun when I was there,” Kyle said.
Kids Wish Network, which ponsored the trip, is a nonprofit organization dedicated to granting the wishes of children with life-threatening illnesses.