“Look to the horizon,” said Captain James Zielinski (Captain Jim), as he coached Sabrina while sitting in the United Airlines Flight Simulator. That was the message sent to her and other young residents of Samaritan House shelter as they had the opportunity to soar to new places on March 4.
The youth were among the 300 men, women and families living at Catholic Charities’ Samaritan House, which offers food, safety, shelter and services to rebuild their lives after experiencing homelessness. In 2017, the Denver Metro Homeless Initiative found 5,116 men, women and children were homeless in the Metro Denver area.
For the flight experience, two Samaritan House case workers, Josh Zielinski and Lara Adamson, organized and accompanied six of the youth to the United Airlines facility in Stapleton. Sabrina, Sadie, Breasia were instructed by Captain Jim, a pilot and instructor with United Airlines. Kody, Malachi and Patrick took turns piloting their simulator under the instruction of Captain John Canny accompanied by his son, Naval pilot Tom Canny. Captain Jim explained to the teens that their training mirrors pilot training—they received the same experience as real pilots.
Eager to make it in the air, the boys followed Captain John Canny to a briefing room where he explained, “Today we’re going to learn to fly, do some take offs and landings, and have a lot of fun.”
While in the simulator, each Samaritan House teenager took the controls and experienced a rare opportunity to fly over the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, fly by the Statue of Liberty in the harbor of New York City, soar over Diamond Head and Pearl Harbor in Oahu, or jet past the Eifel Tower in Paris.
Malachi, a 12-year old who would like to be an engineer in the future, was the first in the captain’s seat with John’s son Navy Pilot Tom Canny in the copilot seat to assist. John set Malachi on a San Francisco runway looking out to the bay and taught him to take off, steer the plane toward the Golden Gate and then Bay Bridge and then head toward Oakland for a landing. Malachi gripped the yoke and made little steering corrections to keep the plane on a straight flight path descent for a smooth landing. The boys took turns taking off, soaring above the San Francisco Bay and landing the plane, twice each.
Captain Jim asked the team of girls named “Team Girl Power,” including Sabrina, Sadie and Breasia, “Do you want me to roll the plane?” A unanimous “yes” was the response. Giggles were heard immediately as Captain Jim banked the plane.
Sabrina, a 5th grader at University Preparatory School in Denver, and whose favorite subject is art, said she is excited to go back to class to tell everyone what she did on the weekend. Breasia, also a 5th grader, talked about all the places she had travelled and her hopes to visit Tokyo. Captain Jim instructs Sadie, a 4th grader, to put the wheels down preparing to make the approach to Daniel K. Inouye International Airport in Hawaii. She exclaimed, “Cool!” with a broad smile on her face as she piloted the plane and came in for a landing. Sadie’s family recently became residents of the Samaritan House.
Kody, a 10-year-old who says he’d like to play in the NFL when he grows up, was so excited to have made his first successful landing that Captain John had to remind him, “Put your feet on the brakes!” Then Patrick, a 15-year old who would like to be a train engineer, got his chance in the captain’s seat.
After the time was up, the boys group went to a briefing room to discuss what they learned: ‘fly your instruments,’ ‘make little adjustments on the controls’ and ‘don’t break the sim – it costs $25 million.’
After connecting with the girls group and taking a snack break, all 6 kids were escorted to a classroom for a training on emergency procedures led by Awilda, an instructor who leads similar trainings for pilots and flight attendants. After watching some instructional videos of flight evacuations, the group went to a model airplane to choose a seat. For five of the six kids, it was their first time on an airplane. When the lights went out, the kids were directed to the emergency exit on the back for a successful evacuation. Next the kids got to go down the evacuation slides and try on and inflate safety vests, and get board an evacuation raft.
The day concluded with lunch in the United cafeteria. As each kid enjoyed a big burger with fries, they discussed all the fun they had had throughout the day. In the middle of this conversation, Malachi mused out loud, “Maybe I’ll be a pilot.”