Ever since watching a television show about airplanes and the military, Alex Hutcheson was hooked.
Five years later, the West Hall High School senior, 17, is on the verge of helping make his dream of becoming a pilot a reality.
After a grueling application process involving numerous recommendations, including an appointment from President Bush, Hutcheson will head to the U.S. Air Force Academy in June to embark on his journey to becoming a fighter pilot.
"I went to the academy this summer and got a little taste of what it was like," Hutcheson said. "I'm excited to go."
According to the Air Force Academy Web site, applicants must have good grades (generally ranked in at least the top 20 percent of their high school class), be active in athletic and nonathletic extracurricular activities and be in good physical condition.
Applicants must also receive a nomination from either a state senator, representative or the president of the United States, if eligible. Hutcheson was eligible to receive a presidential nomination because his father, Craig, served in the Air Force.
"He helped me when I first said, ‘I would like to fly,'" Hutcheson said. "He gave me a lot of information and really set me on the right track on how I could achieve that goal."
Hutcheson also credits his teachers, guidance counselor and high school principal in helping him with the application process, which he began last spring. "It was a very hard process but they helped me out a lot," he said.
Hutcheson leaves for the academy, located in Colorado Springs, Colo., in June. He will undergo basic training for about three months before classes begin. He wants to focus on aeronautical engineering, with the eventual goal of becoming a fighter pilot. Part of the reason Hutcheson chose to attend the Air Force Academy is because it is the only branch of the military that has an F-22 plane, the type he wants to fly.
Hutcheson says the part he enjoys most about flying is the feeling of being in the air. "You're just there, kind of floating in midair," he said. "That's a rush to me."
Like his father, his grandfather also served in the Air Force, and Hutcheson said he wants to carry on that tradition. He said his father is "proud" and "happy" about his appointment to the academy.
"My mom (Agnes) is happy as well, but also sad that I'll be gone for four years," said Hutcheson, adding that it will be especially difficult for his mom to say goodbye since he is an only child.
In the fall, Hutcheson will be challenged with a rigorous academic schedule. Flying activities at the academy are complemented by studies in astronomy, aeronautics, astronautics and physics.
According to the academy's Web site, a cadet's course load is a good deal heavier than most other colleges. The core curriculum consists of 94 semester hours, with a balance of basic sciences and engineering sciences, as well as social sciences and humanities.
Cadets can choose from one of 30 academic majors, and each cadet takes six hours of physical education every semester during four years at the academy.
In addition, cadets must participate in intercollegiate or intramural sports throughout the academic year. Hutcheson will attend the academy for free, but will incur an eight-year commitment to serve in the Air Force afterward.
"That's kind of my paying them back for a free education," he said.
Upon graduation from the academy, if Hutcheson is qualified he will attend pilot school and flight training for a year, then receive an assignment to serve. No matter what Hutcheson's future holds, he said he is ready to begin his next phase of life.
"This has been a dream for quite a few years, so I'm very excited to finally realize that dream," he said.