RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany – An airman with the 86th Airlift Wing Judge Advocate office has realized his dream of being a pilot, at least for one exciting mission over Germany.
Airman 1st Class Nicholas Fennen, a discharge paralegal, was selected to participate in the Ramstein Daedalians Aviation Incentive Flight program, which gives deserving young airmen the chance to live out a childhood fantasy of flight.
Fennen might spend his days processing administrative discharge paperwork, but he has a history of being close to planes. "My cousin and his dad were both pilots ... and my uncle flew planes during Vietnam," Fennen said.
Flying seems to be in his blood, which might also explain why one of his initial experiences with a plane came when he was young. "My cousin owned his own plane and he would take me flying around the farm all the time," Fennen, a Katy, Texas, native said. "As a child I loved the feeling of flying, the takeoff was the most thrilling experience as a kid." Those early flights gave him a thirst for being in the clouds.
With two brothers already in the military -- one in the Army, the other in the Air Force -- Fennen said the choice was easy when it came to joining the Air Force. It has always been his dream to be a pilot and a leader. "The drive to become a pilot is more than just the flying aspect," he said. "The leaders of our Air Force are mostly pilots. I want to lead."
With about 15 months in service, Fennen has already proven his dedication to the mission, which is why his supervisor, Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Frank Portillo, submitted him for this opportunity.
Fennen has shown a maturity that normally takes time for a young airman to develop, Portillo said. "He started at legal assistance where he worked at scheduling clients and working power of attorney worksheets," Portillo said. "We felt he was ready to move up because he had the work ethic and attention to detail to move on and do more tasks."
Portillo said Fennen has excelled at every aspect of the job. Submitting him for this incentive flight was just a small thank you for all his hard work and dedication.
When Fennen first heard he was getting the chance to fly, he said he was surprised to be getting the opportunity to fulfill a dream, but for a while it seemed like it wouldn't happen. The flight was plagued by bad weather and cancellations until, after about a month of waiting, he got off the ground June 22.
During his one-hour flight, Fennen took the controls of the Cessna 172 and performed basic maneuvers including climbs, descents, turns and even flew most of the final approach to the runway. "Fennen did fantastic," said Air Force Lt. Col. Rich Radvanyi, pilot and president of the Coleman Aero Club. "This incentive program is designed to give these young airmen a taste of what it's like to fly and show them some basics in navigation."
Radvanyi said a lot of work goes into keeping a small plane on the proper heading when there are strong winds involved and, despite the weather, Fennen was able to keep it on course. "It was bumpy and a little rocky," Fennen said. "It was a lot more work than I thought it would be."
For someone who is only 20, Fennen has already done a lot. He has traveled Europe, has hopes of playing soccer for the base intramural team, and with the right motivation he may one day have his name painted on the side of his favorite aircraft, the A-10 Thunderbolt II.
"It was surreal to be flying over Germany," Fennen said. "When I was a kid I would have never dreamed I would be flying a plane over the Rhine River and castles. It still amazes me ... all the things I'm accomplishing."