Pilot for a Day

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Gaspar Cortez
  • 48th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

On Oct. 10, 2013, nine-year-old Ethan Ridd experienced what many would never do in a lifetime. He became a pilot for a day.

Ethan at the time had been diagnosed with brain cancer and one of his wishes as an aircraft enthusiast was to see the 48th Fighter Wing’s F-15s up close, and the wing was able to make that wish come true.

“This experience holds an incredibly special place in Ethan’s heart and has remained one of his fondest and most cherished memories,” said his older brother Spencer Ridd.

Ten years later.

Despite his condition improving in the coming years following his visit, Ethan and his family were given the unfortunate news that he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.

With this news, his family began exploring ways to create meaningful and uplifting experiences for him during this challenging time to provide a renewed joy and to create lasting memories.

“As we reflected on Ethan’s life and the moments that brought him immense joy, the pilot for a day program naturally stood out as one of the most significant,” said Spencer.

With an optimistic and hopeful spirit, Spencer contacted the fighter wing and asked if the program was still operating, and if so, was it possible to recreate the experience Ethan had loved so much. On Friday, Oct. 27, 2023, that wish was granted. Ethan once again participated in the experience he cherished as a child. Ethan “Wheelz” Ridd put on the suit he loves and once again, became a pilot for a day.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Hunter Robinson, a pilot assigned to the 495th Fighter Squadron, and Capt. Anthony “Nero” Lafata, a pilot assigned to the 492nd Fighter Squadron, escorted Ethan and his family around the wing for the day where they were able to get an in-depth view into the daily routine and perspective of the pilots.

“An event like this is incredibly important to our squadron because it allows us the privilege to engage the integral community in our host nation who are genuinely interested in what we do everyday,” said Lafata. “For Ethan, we knew his visit carried both nostalgic significance and the ability to facilitate meaningful connections.”

Every once in a while, the wing gets to take a break from the conventional operations dealing with mission readiness and gets to focus on the little things that make a difference in the lives of those who are always watching.

“This day made a difference for Ethan,” Spencer said. “He has been shown pictures of the aircraft with his name on it in flight and is beaming from ear to ear. We can’t express our thanks enough to everyone involved. Thank you.”

“It was an amazing opportunity to welcome Ethan into the Liberty Wing as an honorary pilot,” said Brig. General Joseph Campo. “Ethan is a true inspiration and our personnel are better for sharing time with Ethan and his family.”