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Dollar Ride: First Flight to Wings

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, goes over the pre-flight brief with U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. The pre-flight brief covers the plan for the flight as well as looking at bird levels, visibility, and other required information. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, goes over the pre-flight brief with U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. The pre-flight brief covers the plan for the flight as well as looking at bird levels, visibility, and other required information. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Johnny Rue, left checks the equipment of fellow student U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, both with the 47th Student Squadron, before Ugale’s dollar ride flight at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. Equipment checks are a vital part of preparations for a flight and help ensure a pilot’s safety while flying. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Johnny Rue, left checks the equipment of fellow student U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, both with the 47th Student Squadron, before Ugale’s dollar ride flight at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. Equipment checks are a vital part of preparations for a flight and help ensure a pilot’s safety while flying. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, looks over his final pre flight checklist with before entering a T-6 Texan II for his Dollar Flight with, U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021.  The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, looks over his final pre flight checklist with before entering a T-6 Texan II for his Dollar Flight with, U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, waves to the camera in the cockpit of a T-6 Texan II before his dollar flight with U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron, waves to the camera in the cockpit of a T-6 Texan II before his dollar flight with U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas on August 4, 2021. The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

A Ground Crew member at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, waves through a T-6 Texan II with U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron Squadron and U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch in the pilot and co-pilot seats for 2nd Lt. Ugale’s Dollar Ride on August 4, 2021.  The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

A Ground Crew member at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, waves through a T-6 Texan II with U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale, a student pilot with the 47th Student Squadron Squadron and U.S. Air Force Capt. Sarah Fotsch in the pilot and co-pilot seats for 2nd Lt. Ugale’s Dollar Ride on August 4, 2021. The Dollar Flight is the first flight in a real aircraft for a student pilot and marks a major milestone in the career of a pilot. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Senior Airman Nicholas Larsen)

Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas --

A range of emotions flooded over student pilot 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale before, during, and after his first flight August 4. 2021 in the skies above Laughlin Air Force Base. 

“I’m definitely nervous,” said 2nd Lt. Christopher Ugale 47th Flying Training Wing student pilot before his first flight, “A little bit of anxiety, but definitely excited.”

The term “dollar ride” dates back to the early 1900’s when local bush pilots at fairs would take aboard passengers and allow them to act like they were flying the aircraft for a dollar. For modern student pilots, it's more than just acting like they are flying the plane; they will actually take the reins for the very first time.

Luckily for the students, they aren’t taking to the air alone. During their transition from simulators and theoreticals to actual flight they are guided by an experienced instructor pilot.

The dollar ride is the student’s first exposure to the actual aircraft,” said Capt. Sarah Fotsch, 434th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot. “For me, getting to see the joy of a dollar ride on their face and the way they talk about it afterwards reminds me of how cool my job is every single day.”

During the hour and a half flight, student pilots at Laughlin work with their instructors and get a feel for the controls, as well as take in a new perspective over the local area.

"It was a good experience,” grinned Ugale after his flight, “I got to see Del Rio from the top and actually see Laughlin from the top…I feel like I’m over the hump.”

As memorable as the dollar ride is, it is only the first of many milestones, such as the transition check flight or the first solo flight, as they progress through pilot training.

Shortly after the dollar ride, pilots transition to the stage of training where they either begin flying the T-1 and track into heavies or take on the T-38 and track into fighter aircraft. After extensive training at Laughlin, the pilots will then move onto their next base for air-frame specific training.

"I want to be a pilot for a few different reasons,” said Ugale. “Being a pilot is one way for me to serve and I have a natural affinity for aviation and flight.“

Each flight is a small story in the life of a pilot, and the dollar ride is only the first in their career in the world's greatest Air Force.