When William Wiley was around 10 years old, he got to fly in a small, two-seat airplane.
The rest is history.
“I got real excited,” Wiley said Monday afternoon as he stood in Westminster Elementary School.
Nearly a decade after that first flight, Wiley, a retired Navy fighter jet pilot, was off to a college that was paid for by the Navy, and upon graduation he went into the service.
Wiley spoke to a group of fifth-graders in Westminster as a part of a Veterans Day celebration, something that is particularly special this year, he said, because it’s the 100th year of the holiday.
For about an hour, Wiley walked the kids through his time in the Navy as a fighter jet pilot, talking about each step that got him to becoming a lieutenant. He graduated college in the 1960s, and from there, headed to months of training.
“It was 18 weeks of homework,” he said, adding, “You learn all of that before they even let you look at an airplane.”
Next came basic flight training, then learning to fly jets, then advanced flight training, he said.
“You learn how to use [the jet] as a weapon,” Wiley said.
Wiley showed the kids photos of different types of planes he flew, and what the inside of a cockpit looks like, something that was 10-year-old Jayden Swagger’s favorite part.
Jayden, of Westminster, said he liked getting to see all of the different pictures of planes.
"I thought it was really cool," Jayden said of the presentation.
Many of the students in attendance asked Wiley questions, from how he handled stress and what it sounded like in the plane to even what he would do it he had to go to the bathroom while flying.
For Wiley, getting the chance to talk to a younger generation and answer their questions — even the sillier ones — is something he loves.
“The first thing you notice about these kids is how smart they are. I mean they’re bright as buttons,” he said.
Wiley said at this stage in their life, children want to learn and absorb the world around them.
“I love to see them at this age because they’re so involved,” he added.
Whitney Warner, principal at Westminster Elementary School, said this is the second time Wiley came to speak to the students at the school. He was here two years ago, she said, and since it was such a success, they wanted to bring him back again.
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“Students are interested in planes and flying,” Warner said, adding, “I think it's an attention-grabber.”