Graduating the future of flight: Class 24-08

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  • By 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
  • 47th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

Seventeen U.S. Air Force officers were awarded the coveted silver wings as a symbol of their hard work and training during a graduation ceremony held April 12, 2024.  

Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT) is a training program that helps prepare prospective military pilots. Upon completion of the program, graduates earn their silver wings as Air Force aviators. 

The guest speaker at the Class 24-08 graduation ceremony was Colonel James Blech, 47th Operations Group commander, who oversees the training of U.S. Air Force and allied pilots at the one of the world’s largest pilot training bases. He manages 1,100 personnel and 209 aircraft, leading the annual graduation of over 350 pilots. Blech has amassed over 3,000 flying hours, including more than 1,400 in combat. His distinguished career includes key roles in international affairs and strategic command. 

Receiving their pilot wings during the ceremony were: 

Capt. Timothy Starkey 

1st Lt. Ashleigh Foltz 

2nd Lt. Parker Ashlock 

2nd Lt. Christiana Bardsley 

2nd Lt. Gavin Carter 

2nd Lt. James Chitika 

2nd Lt. Philip Cowart 

2nd Lt. John Ellis 

2nd Jacob Ellison 

2nd Lt. Thomas Hartshorn 

2nd Emily Huber 

2nd Lt. Daniel Hughes 

2nd Lt. Nicholas Kim 

2nd Lt. Jared Piubeni 

2nd Lt. Chyanna Rhoton 

2nd Henry Scott 

2nd Lt. Mason Turney 

In addition to the graduation ceremony, a special emphasis was placed on recognizing the sacrifices and contributions of military spouses. It served as a reminder that while the graduates were the ones receiving their wings, their achievements were also a testament to the love, sacrifice and constant support of their spouses, who serve alongside them in spirit and strength.  

“Military spouses are often said to ‘live in the shadows’,” said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Music, 47th Student Squadron commander. “Although not in uniform, spouses have an essential role to play and are the backbone of the military community. Tonight is about your pilots earning their wings, but also a recognition of you. Your love, sacrifice and ad nauseam quizzing of bold face procedures has not gone unnoticed.” 

The ceremony proceeded with the breaking of the wings, a tradition symbolizing the start of a new journey for the novice pilots. According to the tradition, the first pair of wings a pilot receives should never be worn. Instead, the wings should be broken into two halves to invite good fortune throughout the pilot’s aviation career. One half is kept by the pilot, while the other is given to a significant person in their life. To preserve that good luck, those two halves are said to only be brought together again in the next life. 

The event culminated in the pinning of the wings, where friends and family members affixed a pair of silver wings onto the graduates’ uniforms. This gesture signified the official transition of the students into winged aviators, fully prepared to embrace the forthcoming roles within the United States Air Force.  

Pilot wings are a symbol of hard work, training, and dedication. Aviation wings are issued to pilots who have achieved a certain level of proficiency or training.