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CMN, McConnell team to make Tyson Gray 'Pilot for a Day'

Tyson Gray

The young pilot put on his flight suit around 8 a.m., ready to fly missions around North America.

But unlike many of the pilots at McConnell Air Force Base Tuesday morning, Tyson Gray could barely see over the cockpit console. He’s 10, and was honored by the 344th Air Refueling Squadron as Pilot for a Day.

“Tyson is a great kid who is deserving of such a wonderful thing and we’re glad we were able to make it happen,” said Lt. Col. Jerry Bennett, the squadron’s commander.

Tyson is a beneficiary of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals at Ascension Via Christi, which raises funds for pediatric hospital services and provides money for families to pay for healthcare services not covered by insurance.

Tyson faces many health challenges most kids don’t have to worry about. When he was born, he inherited Maternal PKU Syndrome, which is the result of a defect in the gene that helps create the enzyme which is needed to break down phenylalanine. At a year old, he was diagnosed with a mild form of cerebral palsy. Around the same time, he was also diagnosed with epilepsy, after having multiple seizures, and asthma.

But he got to forget that on Tuesday. After Tyson strapped on his flight suit, he toured a KC-135 Stratotanker, which refuels other planes midair. He then flew a KC-135 flight simulator and buzzed his house in Andover as well as flights over Hawaii and Las Vegas.

'Part of something'

Tyson’s mom, Jen, was overwhelmed by the generosity of those who planned this special day for her son.

“This experience was amazing because any time Tyson feels like he’s a part of something, he just lights up,” Jen said. “He has remote control drones at home, so for him to get to come to the base and tour a plane and use the flight simulator was awesome.”

After a tour of the base, Bennett summoned the squadron’s airmen together and asked Tyson a question: “What do all of these people have on that you don’t have?”

He then presented Tyson his own bomber jacket, complete with his name. Bennett also gave him a framed collage of photos for Tyson to remember his visit to the base.

Tyson’s smile lit up the room.

“This was just a great opportunity for us to help the community which helps us so much on a daily basis,” Bennett said.

Finally, it was time for the young pilot to refuel himself. Tyson opted for a juice box out of the squadron’s refrigerator.