Open house honorary pilot honors us

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- There was activity everywhere at Offutt AFB May 4, the day before the annual two-day "Defenders of Freedom" Open House and Air Show kicked off. Planes of every shape, size and age flew in and were moved to their parking places; vendors were setting up tents; water stations, check points and road signs popped up all over.

Amid the bustle and excitement, one very special guest for the weekend was moving about with his escort, sometimes in his golf cart and sometimes in his kid-sized wheelchair, shaking hands and getting briefed about everything going on.

Once in a while, one of the Airmen he met in a flight suit like his would get a furrowed brow and say, "This isn't right. You're out of uniform!" They'd pull the Velcro-backed squadron patch off his sleeve and replace it with one that looked like their own. 

Jonathan Hastings, 7, was getting quite a collection of squadron patches as 55th Wing squadrons claimed him as one of their own.

He was also picking up an informal call sign, which is often how it happens. To his wing mates, Jonathan was "Bronco," since his middle name is Elway after former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, and "because it fit him."

Jonathan was an honorary pilot and very special guest of the 55th Wing last weekend. As such, he got DV (distinguished visitor) treatment.

He came to the attention of 55th Wing January 20 when media reported the story of a fatal accident on westbound I-80 that killed Jonathan's mother and two younger sisters when another car crossed the median and hit them head on. Jonathan survived the accident but suffered injuries from which he is still recovering.

The news stories said the Hastings were returning to North Platte from a visit to the Air and Space Museum, where they'd spent the day because Jonathan wanted to be a pilot. His father had to work and couldn't make the trip with the rest of the family.

The 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron took the lead and Capt. Gavin Gigstead ran the traps to make it all happen.

With honors come duties, and as an honorary pilot Jonathan was not excused from helping out. As do all distinguished guests, Jonathan started his visit Friday morning in a private meeting with the wing commander, where it was said they "swapped war stories."

He inspected the flight line to make sure it was ready for the open house and air show, and he checked out the huge turret on the fire department's crash truck, sending a high-powered blast of water a hundred feet.

As a pilot, Jonathan took his turn in the training rotation, with some seat time in the aircraft simulator. In Air Force talk, he "flew the sim." And, of course, he got private tours of the aircraft on display and talked with their crews as they prepared for the weekend event.

Jonathan's honorary pilot duties extended through the two-day open house, but they included enjoying the air show with his father, Scott, and grandmother, Marilyn Hastings, from the commander's tent at center stage of the flight line Sunday.

After the open house and air show cancellation for weather on Saturday, the Hastings were given a special, behind-the-scenes tour of the Henry Doorly Zoo, courtesy of the Zoo staff. Jonathan got a chance to see some of the zoo residents up close and personal.

Wherever he went throughout his stay, Jonathan made a definite positive impression. In his wake, people were heard to say things like, "terrific kid," "very special," and "a magnet for joy."

Sunday night, when the field was cleared and the show was over, and the Hastings family headed home to North Platte, there were two kinds of people at Offutt AFB - those who had the joy of meeting Jonathan Hastings, and those, alas, who did not.