On Friday, 24 June 2016, the Make-A-Wish® Utah Foundation arranged for a group of children and their families to watch the USAF Thunderbirds practice for an hour. The Thunderbirds, the air demonstration squadron of the United States Air Force, are assigned to the 57th Wing and are based at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. They are the third oldest formal flying aerobatic team in the world, touring the United States and much of the world, performing aerobatic formation and solo flying in specially marked aircraft.
During the weekend of 24 June 2016, they gave one of their dynamic air shows at Hill Air Force Base located in northern Utah, just south of the city of Ogden, near the towns of Clearfield, Riverdale, Roy, Sunset, and Layton. It is about 30 miles north of Salt Lake City. According to the Standard Examiner.net, “After the practice performance, Hill Air Force Base service members formed a line in front of the Make Wish tent and the pilots entered and met the children, talking with the families, signing books, admiring patches and just thanking the children for coming to see them.”
The children and their family members were not the only ones who were amazed by the Thunderbirds. On Friday afternoon, after their practice, world-renown singer/songwriter, David Archuleta of Murray, Utah, having been invited by the team, took to the sky in an F-16 Fighting Falcon. In what David described as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” the Thunderbirds were pleased to give him the full experience. After the flight, David commented, “It was amazing doing barrel rolls and flying max climb and flying upside-down and everything.” He posted a video of his flight over the salt flats on his Instagram account and stated, “Major Scott Petz, aka “Cheetah” took great care of me along with the rest of the crew. It was INCREDIBLE!! Thank you so much for the invitation! Such an honor!”
The experience of watching the USAF Thunderbirds fly and perform was a major highlight for the children in attendance as for a short while they were able to divert their attention to something other than their debilitating illnesses. They were not able to physically fly inside one of the planes as did David, but they could still imagine themselves flying high in the sky and enjoying the awesomeness of it all.
Since returning home from his two-year full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Chile, David, like the Thunderbird team, has been traveling the world also delivering a message of hope and encouragement to people. Whereas the Thunderbirds use airplanes, David uses spoken word and music, helping people to feel better about themselves, and if even for a brief time to fly high and to reach for the sky.
According to their official website, the Make-A-Wish® Utah Foundation grants the wish of a child diagnosed with a life-threatening medical condition in the United States and its territories every 38 minutes. They state, “We believe that a wish experience can be a game-changer. This one belief guides us in everything we do. It inspires us to grant wishes that change the lives of the kids we serve.”