03/14/18 — To be a pilot for a day

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To be a pilot for a day

By Rochelle Moore
Published in News on March 14, 2018 5:50 AM

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Dylan "Guts" Bolles-Prasse, 12, reacts with excitement while sitting in the cockpit of an F-15 Strike Eagle Monday at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base during his Pilot For a Day experience.

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Dylan Bolles-Prasse uses sign language to communicate with his family while nervously walking up the steps to get into the F-15 during his Pilot for a Day experience at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Monday. Also pictured is Capt. Chris Leonard.

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Dylan Bolles-Prasse, 12, stares down the nose of an F-15 Strike Eagle Monday during his pilot for a day experience at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Dylan Bolles-Prasse has spent a lifetime battling sickness while trying to maintain a normal life.

But on Monday, he was given a once-in-a-lifetime experience by suiting up in flight gear and sitting in the cockpit of a F-15E Strike Eagle.

The 12-year-old boy from Lancaster, South Carolina, became a pilot for a day, as part of an annual program hosted by Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

"Truly, we obviously love flying but I wouldn't rather be doing anything but this today," said Capt. Chris Leonard, with the 334th Fighter Squadron.

"There's really no better reward than to see his face light up anytime that something happens and see that big smile on his face and know that this is an opportunity that he doesn't have otherwise."

The Pilot for a Day program is offered to children identified by certified child life specialists at local hospitals, according to base officials.

Dylan has received treatment from Duke University Hospital, which specializes in intestinal transplants and associated treatments, said Dave Prasse, his father.

Dylan was born with Hirschsprung's disease, a rare condition of the large intestine that can lead to blockage and other complications. He was also born deaf but wears a cochlear implant, which helps provide a sense of sound.

"He was about a week old when he got sick the first time," Prasse said. "He just spent, off and on, two months at Duke.

"He's on 16 different medicines."

Dylan has been through multiple surgeries, including an intestinal transplant eight years ago, and recently experienced an infection that resulted in his recent stay at the hospital.

His parents and grandmother drove up from South Carolina to Seymour Johnson AFB, but held off on telling Dylan about the visit.

"When he was still in the hospital last week, we weren't sure if we'd even be able to make it today," Prasse said. "It's day by day with him.

"We didn't tell him too much, in case he couldn't come, so he wouldn't be disappointed."

Dylan got the royal blue treatment during his base visit by being given his own child-sized flight suit, with his call sign -- Guts -- patched on his chest.

He got the chance to look through night vision goggles, toured the air control tower and the radar approach control building, where he was able to see aircraft on a radar screen.

He also had lunch with airmen from the 334th Fighter Squadron, sat in the briefing room and went through an F-15E Strike Eagle flight simulator.

One of the highlights of the day, and his last stop on base, was inside a hangar that houses a Strike Eagle.

Excited and a little hesitant, Dylan was encouraged to make the climb up the stairs and into the cockpit, where airmen showed him around the controls.

After sitting in the seat for a while, he climbed down the stairs and airmen continued to show Dylan different parts of the jet.

In sign language, Dylan asked for a boarding pass and said -- several times -- he wanted to see the engines lit.

"I think it's wonderful that he gets to experience this," Prasse said.

Airmen from the 334th Fighter Squadron then presented Dylan with several gifts.

Col. Brian Armstrong, 4th Fighter Wing vice commander, gave Dylan his own aviator wings. He was also presented with a 334th Fighter Squadron challenge coin and a framed picture of a Strike Eagle, signed by members of the squadron.

"It's just an honor for us to have folks on base, who are struggling with challenges in life," Armstrong said. "I had a daughter who went through cancer and dealt with medical challenges, as well, so I'm very sympathetic to that.

"It's wonderful to have the family on base and to see the joy that 'Guts' displayed today. I hear he's quite the aviator and did quite well in the simulator."