Many children have dreamed of being a pilot. They spend hours imagining what it’s like to be in the clouds, defying gravity as they leave the ground.
For one lucky Airman of the 86th Airlift Wing Judge Advocate Office, this dream of flying became a reality.
Airman 1st Class Nicholas Fennen, a discharge paralegal, was selected to participate in the Ramstein Daedalians Aviation Incentive Flight program, which provides quarterly aviation incentive flights to deserving young Airmen and gives them the chance to live a childhood fantasy of flight.
This Katy, Texas, native 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 etched in the young Airman’s blood, which might also explain why one of his initial first-hand 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,” he said. “As a child I loved the feeling of flying. The take off was the most thrilling experience as a kid.”
The thrill isn’t the only thing he loved. As a child he could only imagine what the world looked like from the air.
“I loved and still do love to stare out of the windows during take offs and landings because it gives a totally different view of everything,” Fennen said. “It’s really a beautiful site to see all of man’s creations from 5,000 feet up.”
It’s these early flights that gave him a thirst for being in the clouds and a way to be a part of something that was bigger than he was, he said.
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, because it could potentially fulfill his dream of becoming 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 to be dedicated to the mission and a hard worker, which is why his supervisor, Senior Master Sgt. Frank Portillo, submitted him for this opportunity.
Portillo said in the 10 months Fennen has been at Ramstein he has shown a maturity and work ethic that normally takes time for a young Airman to develop.
“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 an attention to detail to move on and do more tasks that not all (Airmen) can do.”
At the time there was a sole paralegal working in discharges and the workload was too much for one person, he said.
“We needed to pick someone who could handle the task and move, and (Fennen) was our first choice,” he said.
Since taking the reins, Portillo said Fennen has excelled at every aspect of the job and submitting him for this incentive flight was just a small thank you for all his hard work and dedication to the mission.
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 with bad weather and cancellations, but finally, 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 at Ramstein.
“Fennen did fantastic,” said 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 course when there are strong winds involved and despite the weather Fennen was still able to do well for his first flight.
“It was bumpy and a little rocky,” Fennen said. “It’s a lot more work than I thought it would be.”
For someone who is only 20 years old, this young man 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 at all the things I’m accomplishing.”