Winging it has serious implications for Conner Love and those around him, but after the last 24 months, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
Dressed in his best whites and his parents looking on, the Genoa native recently earned the epitome of flight when receiving his Wings of Gold at his Winging Ceremony for the U.S. Navy in Milton, Fla,, thus entering rarefied air of naval aviation.
And while the sky has always been the limit for the 2012 valedictorian from Sierra Lutheran High School, Love learned early on that winging how to fly $2 million helicopters is the ultimate oxymoron.
“Every flight is a grade or evaluation,” the newly commissioned lieutenant shared about his two years in flight school while recently visiting his family on leave before reporting to San Diego for his first assignment. “The amount of study and work that goes into the average flight is everything.”
The process of earning naval aviator wings begins with five weeks of Aviation Preflight indoctrination, or ground school, and continues with six to eight months of Primary School flying fixed wing aircraft, and concludes with six to eight months of Advanced School.
But within the process lies a misnomer many might have about what flight school actually represents.
“Flight school is not about specializing,” Love explained. “You’re learning skills that will transfer to other aircraft.”
The decision on what type of aircraft a pilot will ultimately learn how to fly in Advanced School comes down to a pilot’s success by the end of Primary School, his/her preference, and the Navy’s need for aviators in certain classes. It was Love’s hope to fly helicopters, which came with the uniqueness of always being in a crew, a value that served him well in successfully earning his wings.
“The people who do well have a group,” Love shared. “They form study groups and form bonds together. Your life is a bubble together. I’ve been with guys the last two years who I’m closer with than anyone.”
And given the behind the scenes of what an aspiring naval aviator experiences, those bonds are crucial to success.
“Flying is physically grueling because of the mental aspect of flying the aircraft,” he continued. “Your brain is working constantly in a hot environment as you’re working to stay ahead of the aircraft with someone next to you who is judging your every move. At the end of the day you have to be competent.”
The fear of failure on small levels that can translate to much larger and potentially dire consequences is an ever present thought for aspiring naval aviators. However, it’s the ability of the top candidates to learn and move on from setbacks that set them apart.
“Attriting (being disqualified) happens more than I thought,” Love stated. “Those who let things build struggle. You have to compartmentalize and not let things snowball. If you keep breaking down, you’re missing what’s happening now.”
The elite who demonstrate the mettle to be a naval aviator are presented Wings of Gold at the Winging Ceremony. Prior to the rite is the holy blessing of the wings.
“That was a special moment,” Love reflected on the chapel service that features holy water sprinkled on a pilot’s wings. “The reason I chose (naval aviation) is so that I can help people and glorify God.”
His wings consecrated and bearing aviator number 34,449, representing his cumulative place in naval aviation history, Love is quick to point out becoming a naval aviator is just the beginning.
“Now that you’ve earned your wings, now you have to keep them,’” Love explained about the nature of staying current in the field and always learning. “You should be a master of your craft.”
And in heeding this he will also try to remember the best advice he received over the past two years.
“Every flight take five seconds and look around and see what you’re doing is awesome.”
Next week Lt. Love will report to San Diego for his first assignment, where he will rather appropriately train to fly MH 60 Sierra helicopters for the next 4 years. And as he does, he’ll not only take those five seconds of wonder with him, he’ll also take a notion up into the wild blue yonder with him.
“It seems like such a dream,” Love earnestly said. “It’s a little kid’s dream.”
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