Walking back through the fuselage from the cockpit of the King Air 200, stumbling in compensation for the violent air bumps, Mike Schranz said, “that made me want to do it even more” with a large, satisfied grin.
The freshman forestry major from Albuquerque, N.M., had spent the entire ride before he got to fly the plane looking excitedly out the window at the ground rushing by a mere 500 feet below as the plane careened through the mountain valleys just west of Loveland and Fort Collins.
The wings turned perpendicular to the ground, the oxygen masks popped out of the ceiling compartment, and the passengers laughed.
Until Tuesday, Shranz had never been in a plane smaller than what he called “puddle jumpers” — commuter planes that take passengers from a small airport to another. But he had wanted to be a jet fighter for the military since childhood.
“I guess it’s the adrenaline rush,” he said eagerly in the lobby of the Loveland/Fort Collins Airport hangar, before taking off.
When he heard of the program the Marine Corps was offering through the ROTC program at CSU that allows interested students a chance to try out for military activity, he jumped on the opportunity. He was one of 18 CSU students and 30 students from other colleges who flew the plane Tuesday and Wednesday.
Captain Rick Birt, who has been in the Marine Corps since 1996 and normally flies Prowlers to jam enemy communications, came to Colorado this year on orders at the last minute instead of before being shipped out on his first Iraq tour to give the flight workshops.
He was disappointed about not going overseas to be beside his comrades in combat.
“I feel like I’m letting them down, not being there,” he said. “That’s what you really fight for — not letting your friends down.” During his 12-year tenure in the military, Birt has not been on one Iraq tour.
But he said he has enjoyed working with students since he came to Colorado to show them the skies.
The program is intended to weed out the best-qualified candidates for summer internships through the Marine Corps. It includes tryouts for aviation and ground training for students at schools throughout the Rocky Mountains interested in Marine operations.
“We’re the Marines,” said Captain Matt Hager, the Western Marine Officer selection officer. “We’re looking for the best of the best.”
Anyone chosen as a nominee for continuing in the program will be guaranteed an eight- to 10-week assignment as a student of Marine Corps aviation in Pensacola, Fla.
Birt told Collegian reporters that pilots are a little crazy sometimes, and then he showed it — by letting them fly the plane after a glossed-over warning that flying can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
“It’s not fun when someone new to this does something crazy,” he said. “You wanna try?” Halfway through the hour-and-a-half-long flight, Birt turned around from the cockpit and asked the students in the back when they had to be back in class.
“I don’t have to go back to class,” Schranz said. “I could just stay up here.”
But at the end of the day, he had to head back.
Hager will consider Schranz, along with the other 29 students who flew, as a possible candidate for the internship based on his enthusiasm and merit.
As Birt swung the plane back in to the landing strip from his steep bank break maneuver for landing, he nonchalantly looked back at the oxygen masks dangling from the ceiling of the aircraft and said, “did those O2 masks pop out again? Son of a bitch!”
News Editor Aaron Hedge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.