Former WW grad ‘Sparkle(s)’ in her attempt to be a fighter pilot PDF Print E-mail

Anyone who remembers the movie “Top Gun” remembers the nicknames “Maverick” and “Goose.” In today’s Air Force pilots still have nicknames, but some of them have a feminine twist, like “Sparkle!?”
“Sparkle” is the nickname given to 2007 West Washington graduate Brittney Sparks as she works her way through flight school.


She said the nickname is a play on her name “Sparks” combined with the fact that she is the biggest neat-freak of all her fellow classmates, 27 of which are men, at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas
The 2nd lieutenant said her desire to fly began when she was walking the halls, lettering in three sports at West Washington.
She never really took the desire to be a pilot serious, however, because of misconceptions about things required to fly planes.
“I’ve always been really athletic and been a tomboy,” Sparks said. “I’ve always wanted something fun, tough and challenging to do. I’ve always been interested in the Air Force since high school, but I was ignorant about it. I always thought everyone was enlisted and if you did well you got promoted to be an officer. I knew I didn’t want to enlist right away because college was my number one priority. I wanted my degree first.
“I always heard that you had to have perfect eye-sight and I wore contacts, but that’s not the case. It turns out my vision is good enough.”
Sparks learned that fact and many others about piloting while she was a student at Indiana University. She said while walking around campus one day she decided to stop in the building where the armed services were located.
Sparks said the Army was on the first floor and they spent a few hours talking to her and showing her around.
“I knew right way the Army wasn’t for me, so I returned the next day and found the Air Force offices,” she said.
Sparks, who is the daughter of  Mary Cook of Salem and Jim Sparks of Louisville,.decided to enlist and then the day after she graduated in Bloomington with a degree in Informatics, she was commissioned. The day after she was commissioned, she went on active duty.
“They took all my scores and sent me to field training my sophomore and junior year, which is basically like basic training for officers,” she said. “They took the scores and I got a pilot slot. I think I am the first female from my detachment, from Indiana University to get a pilots flag.”
Since then she has been working toward her ultimate goal of becoming a fighter pilot.
“The goal, the dream, is to pilot the A-10 Warthog,” Sparks said. “That plane has a huge gun in the front that I get to control. It’s a fighter and I will be in the action if I get to fly that.”
Right now she is flying the G 6 and is in Stage two of her training. Stage one is the academics of the plane and phase two, is actual flying and simulations.
Phase three will be in February and then in August, she will be assigned to a plane.
Ultimately which plane Sparks gets to fly is based on her score and her daily rides.
“Another thing that factors in are the commander’s rankings,” Sparks said.
Only the top eight out of the 28 people in her class will be selected as fighter pilots.
Sparks said she never doubted her decision to join the Air Force, even after she got sick on her flight.
“I puked three times on my first ride and I had never gotten sick in my life on a commercial flight,” she said. “I was really excited and I wasn’t even really the one flying. They would let me do something and then take control right back.”
In the end, the air sickness didn’t cause her to re-think things. In fact she said the Air Force does such a good job with training, flying is really not as hard as it would seem.
“They train you well and it’s an intense course because they have to get you proficient really quickly,” she said,
Sparks plan is to spend the next 20 years in the Air Force.
“You have to sign on for 10 years to get a pilots license because they are investing in us and want to keep us around,” she said.  The you get to retire after 20 years so that’s my goal right now. I love this job and am happy where I am and 20 years doesn’t seem like a long time at all.
“I am a girl and one day I want a family and want to have children and it might change, but for right now, that’s the plan.”
Sparks returned home for a two-week break during the holidays. She said she planned to visit friends and spend time with her family and the dogs her mom has been taking care of since she has been gone.
“I miss my family so much,” Sparks said. “Thanksgiving was the first holiday where I didn’t get to see any of my family at all. I can’t wait to see my mom and my dogs. There is so much I have to pack in a short amount of time.”
She planned to catch up on sleep and also try to adjust to driving 55 miles per hour after traveling in the air at speeds in the 200 and 300 miles per hour range.
In early January she will return to Texas, to what she calls one of the best jobs in the world.
“There is a lot to focus on and a lot of stress, but every flight I try to take a second to marvel at what I am doing,” Sparks said. “My office is in the clouds! I love flying on rainy says because it’s gloomy and ugly on the ground, and then all of a sudden you can’t see anything and the next thing you know you are the top of the clouds and it’s sunny and beautiful. It really is like heaven on Earth. It’s too bad that everyone doesn’t get to see it up there. It’s an exciting job!”
Sparks ability to focus and handle stress is evident by what she has accomplished in her young life. For her success she credits her family, her schools and her willingness to get her hands dirty by doing things that are difficult.
“. . . I didn’t have one loan or one bill at the end of college and now I am in the Air Force,” she said. “I put my mind to it and I wanted to do it and I found a way.”
The Air Force is a strong arm of this country’s military because of people with Sparks determination. It also “Sparkles” clean because she won’t have it any other way.