Sunday, March 20, 2016

Dave Cornes realizes childhood dream for aviation career

Dave Cornes as a 12-year-old would-be pilot at a NASA camp.

Dave Cornes of Napa received his “wings of gold” at a pinning ceremony at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Dave Cornes stands the Osprey aircraft he will fly as a naval aviator. Cornes said for security reasons he is not allowed to photograph the inside of the aircraft.

Most kids aren’t lucky enough to have their childhood ambitions realized.

Those kids are not Naval Aviator Dave Cornes.

Back when he was 12-years-old, this Napan dreamed of a career as a military pilot. On Feb. 5, Cornes’ wish came true when he received his “wings of gold” at a pinning ceremony at the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi, Texas.

“It was a lot of hard work, but if you want something bad enough I think you can make it happen,” said Cornes.

Cornes was featured in a 2003 Napa Valley Register story as his passion for aviation first took flight.

As a sixth-grader at Northwood Elementary School, Cornes won a scholarship to NASA’s Aviation Challenge at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Stepfather Tim Baird said he remembers how Cornes was determined to become a pilot.

“I was impressed” that he would be so committed at such a young age, said Tim Baird.

The young man’s desire to fly never waned.

After graduating from Vintage High School in 2009, Cornes was admitted to the United States Naval Academy.

“I wanted to serve our county. That was important to me,” said Cornes.

“My stepdad had been in the Navy. I just remember him telling me about officers he looked up to that were Naval Academy graduates. When it came time to apply, he pointed me in that path.”

In 2013, Cornes graduated, earning a degree in Ocean Engineering. The degree is similar to civil engineering but related to water, he explained.

After completing six months at the Marine Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Cornes then received the coveted orders to head to Pensacola, Florida to begin “aviation preflight indoctrination” for the United States Marine Corps.

Pilot training means a lot of moving around. Cornes said he’s lived in seven different places over the past three years. He also received training at Naval Air Stations in Corpus Christi and Milton, Florida.

Each step in the training process is grueling. “You definitely have to know what you are doing,” said Cornes.

On one early flight, “I was throwing up. It was terrible,” he said.

Flying at 240 knots, or 276, mph “took me awhile to get used to,” Cornes said. “It’s a very steep learning curve. You have to know so much to be safe while you fly. It was overwhelming, but I plugged away at it and just toughed it out.”

Cornes’ final phase of training is at the Marine Air Station New River in North Carolina where he will fly the V-22 Osprey. Using rotating engines, the Osprey can take off like a helicopter and then fly like a traditional airplane.

“They have unique capabilities that no other aircraft has,” said Cornes.

He chose the Osprey program because of its support mission.

“The Osprey is the first to respond to any sort of crisis,” said Cornes. In the 2015 Nepal earthquake, “the Marines were the first U.S. forces to respond,” he said. They flew supplies into the disaster zone on Ospreys.

The Ospreys can also move troops, equipment, weapons, ammunition or food into landing zones.

After he completes his training in North Carolina, 1st Lt. Cornes will be stationed at the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

Dave’s parents, Tim and Bonnie Baird of Napa and Steve and Nancy Cornes of American Canyon, attended his “winging” ceremony in Texas.

Bonnie Baird said she appreciates how happy her son is with his career.

“I see that joy in him,” she said.

Bonnie Baird said she does not get nervous thinking of her son deployed into a war zone or other disaster area.

“I’m not nervous about him going to war. We need people that are willing to step up and project our country.”

Looking back, Cornes said if he could give any advice to his 12-year-old self, about to start his first aviation camp, it would be this: “Keep working hard; it will pay off.”

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