They are five people, four men and a woman, from different places, with different backgrounds and life experiences, but all share a common dream — to earn their wings as the next generation of America’s military pilots.
All five have one thing in common — none said they were superstitious about being a member of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 13-13.
Here is an introduction to the five pilots who will be featured in this year-long series:
2nd Lt. Jonathan Payne
The Tuscaloosa, Ala., native already is known as the “old man,” at 28.
“He’s the grandpa of the group,” said classmate 2nd Lt. Ryan Schieber.
Payne already has spent eight years service in the Alabama Air National Guard as an aircraft engine mechanic, working on KC-135 tankers.
The University of Alabama graduate and avid Crimson Tide fan said he has wanted to fly his entire life.
“Since I was a kid,” he said, “since I was probably 6 years old, at least.”
In third grade, on career day at his elementary school, Payne made his future plans clear.
“I want to fly planes, I’m pretty sure is what I said,” he said.
He said he is excited to begin the 54-week journey through pilot training.
“It’s been a long time coming,” he said. “I’m just ready to get started.”
2nd Lt. Ryan Schieber
Flying and airplanes have “always fascinated” the Philadelphia, Pa., native and graduate of the Citadel, also known as the Military College of South Carolina.
Schieber, 22, was commissioned through the Citadel’s ROTC program.
“In high school I got really serious about it, sophomore year, I guess,” he said. “I set my goals and everything. It’s been a long time coming.”
He said he is “definitely excited” to begin pilot training.
“I’d say good nerves,” Schieber said. “I’m ready to start cracking the books and eventually get into the airplane.”
2nd Lt. Kayla Bowers
The only woman in the class, Bowers is a native of Pinckney, Mich., and a graduate of Indiana University.
Pinckney, a town of 2,400 in southeast Michigan, has the distinction of being located only three miles from Hell (Michigan, that is).
She is married to an Army field artillery officer stationed at Fort Sill near Lawton.
Having a spouse in the military also is a plus, she said.
“He understands a lot about time commitments and dedication, things like that,” Bowers said. “He’s really just excited for me.”
Being in the military has been a dream for most of her life, she said, and she has had flying as her goal since her freshman year of high school.
2nd Lt. Matthew Smokovitz
The University of Michigan ROTC graduate who hails from Canton, Mich., has flying in his blood.
His father is a civilian pilot who owns his own biplane.
“I have been going to Oshkosh (Wisc.), site of the annual air show known as the ‘World’s Greatest Aviation Adventure,’ since I was in my mother’s stomach,” said Smokovitz, 23. “A long, long time. And I’ve been working on my dad’s biplane for quite a few years.”
He said he is approaching pilot training with excitement.
“I’m excited and I think I would agree with Schieber, excited and kind of nervous,” he said. “It’s a long time coming. I’ve been waiting on this day for a very, very long time.”
2nd Lt. Eli Weyen
Of the five, the 27-year-old Air Force Reserve officer is closest to home, having grown up in Adair, located between Pryor and Vinita in northeast Oklahoma.
He is part of a Reserve unit based at Tinker AFB, so he pushed to be assigned to pilot training at Vance.
The Oklahoma State graduate went directly to Officer Training School upon entering the AF Reserve.
He likewise grew up with airplanes. His mother is in the aerospace industry, designing aircraft for McDonnell Douglas and Boeing.
When asked how long he has wanted to fly, Weyen answered: “Basically forever, I guess. I’ve always been around it.”
Weyen’s mother did design work on some of the aircraft that competed with the T-6A Texan II before it was chosen through the Joint Primary Aircraft Training System competition of the 1990s.
Weyen is among the married members of the class. His wife is an elementary school teacher in Broken Arrow, who will commute to Enid on weekends to visit him.