Franklin High grad is living his dream

Published 8:17 am Wednesday, December 30, 2009

FRANKLIN—Second Lt. Bert Williams has wanted to fly the A-10 Warthog air-to-ground fighter for the United States Air Force since he was a small child, but he didn’t think it was a possibility.

“I was born with a heart condition, and I had surgery to get it fixed,” the 2004 Franklin High School graduate said. “So everyone told me ‘you had a heart condition and heart surgery, there’s no way that they’re going to let you fly.’”

However, Williams, 24, the son of Anne and Taylor Williams, received a waiver and is close to realizing that dream. Earlier this month he finished the second phase of pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi under the 14th Operations Support Squadron and was recognized as the top student in his class during the track select ceremony.

Track select is where student pilots learn which aircraft they will receive specialized training for during the third and final phase of their training. As the No. 1 student, Williams was guaranteed his first choice, the T-38 Talon twin-engine supersonic jet.

“It’s kind of old, but they’ve upgraded a lot of the avionics packages,” he said. “It has all types of bells and whistles.”

At the ceremony, Williams received the Leverette Award, named for Col. William Leverette, a World War II fighter ace.

“They named the award for the top student in the 37th Flying Training Squadron after the No. 1 ace of the 37th Fighter Squadron,” Williams said. “It’s kind of a heritage thing.”

Williams’ parents attended the track select ceremony and saw their son receive the prestigious award.

“It is a very proud moment for a parent to see their child get any award, especially one of this caliber,” Anne Williams said.

Right now Williams is in the beginning stages of the final phase of pilot training with the 50th Flight Training Squadron Striking Snakes. He said he’ll start flying the T-38 at the end of January.

Williams attended Virginia Military Institute and graduated with a civil engineering degree in May 2008.

While at VMI, Williams was active in the ROTC and was selected to go to pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi. There, he began the first of three phases of pilot training.

The first phase is six weeks long and consists of academics, learning about the basics of airspace, aerodynamics and rules and the laws that the FAA uses to govern air travel.

At the beginning of the second phase, student pilots fly the T-6 Texan II, a single engine turboprop aircraft. Students learn how to turn, climb and descend as well as how to communicate with air control and file flight plans.

Although he is still in training, Williams already has experience leading other student pilots. After phase one, the class is broken up into two flights and Williams was put in charge of his flight.

“Even though I didn’t have the most time, they selected me because I was doing well in training and was pretty motivated,” he said. “It was tough because in the military everything is based off rank. If someone higher-ranking than you tells you to do something then you do it, however all of my flight mates are the same rank.”

Although it was a challenge, Williams said he enjoyed the experience.

Williams expects to graduate from the yearlong training process on July 1.

“You get your wings, which is a big deal, and then you get assigned an aircraft,” he said. “So once again, it’s really important to be No. 1 because if you’re not, there are no guarantees.”

His goal of being assigned the A-10 Warthog “is a lot of motivation to study,” Williams said.

“You want him to follow his dreams, and that’s his dream,” Anne Williams said.

On a typical day of pilot training, Williams said that he often wakes up at 3 a.m. in order to get to work on time at 4:30 a.m.

“Your day kind of goes in three and four hour blocks, you’ll have like three hours to go fly, three hours of academics and then a three-hour simulator. You add in travel time and hopefully some time to eat something you have a 12-hour day,” he said. “It can wear you down pretty quick.”

Despite all of the hard work, Williams is glad he decided to pursue his dream.

“It’s kind of like all dreams, I never really thought I could do it,” he said. “When I finally tried I found out that I could, and I’ve been doing pretty well.”