If you ask many little boys what they want to be when they grow up, two popular answers are a policeman or a pilot.
For Derrick DeSalme, his dream of becoming a police offer came true a year ago when he became an officer with the Sedalia Police Department.
His dream, or perhaps nightmare, of flying, came true Thursday afternoon when DeSalme was chosen to fly with the U.S. Air Force Demonstration Squadron Thunderbirds.
“I’ve always been terrified of flying,” DeSalme told the Democrat Wednesday afternoon in a phone interview. “So, the thought of doing this has me a little frightened.”
DeSalme did not know he was chosen for the flight, part of the Wings Over Whiteman Air Show and Open House, until he was notified of his selection Tuesday.
“It’s probably a good thing I didn’t know about it any sooner,” DeSalme said. “If I did I would probably be a lot more nervous.”
“They did tell me to eat light,” he said. “I should eat things like fruit and to drink a lot of water so I won’t get dehydrated.”
Other than that, he was not given much pre-flight information prior to his arrival on base. He did know he would have a GoPro camera on his helmet and that the flight would be filmed.
“I haven’t told my parents yet,” DeSalme said. “I will call them tonight (Wednesday), because I don’t want them to worry. I did call my sister in Baltimore and she is really excited about it.”
Once DeSalme arrived on base, he was taken to the OSS (Operation Support Squadron for Pilots) Center. There he received more than two hours of training.
Maj. Chris Scheibler, who serves as the flight surgeon for the Thunderbirds, covered the physical conditions that DeSalme may experience in flight, especially motion sickness and the effects of G-forces on the body.
“If you get sick, don’t focus on it, and don’t be concerned about it,” Scheibler said. “No matter what, you are going to be in constant communication with the pilot and he can bring the plane down if anything would occur.”
Scheibler said DeSalme could ask the pilot to repeat any maneuvers or stop any of the flight patterns if DeSalme ever became uncomfortable.
Scheibler cautioned DeSalme that possibly the major cause of discomfort he would have would be the effects of G-Forces.
“A G-Force is nine times what the body weight is on the ground,” he explained. “That can put a tremendous amount of force on the body and it is something that works in both directions, depending on if the force is a negative or positive one.”
To help DeSalme compensate for the effects, Scheibler took him through a series of breathing and muscle tightening exercises to be used while DeSalme was in flight.
Next, DeSalme met with Tech. Sgt. Craig Hall, Air Crew Flight Equipment Specialist, who fitted DeSalme with his flight suit, helmet, oxygen mask and parachute. Hall was also responsible for explaining what DeSalme would need to do in the event of an emergency while in flight.
Maj. Tyler Ellison was the pilot who flew DeSalme’s flight. A 13-year member of the Air Force, he has flown F-15, F-22 and F-26 fighter planes in his service in combat.
“Flying has always been a dream and a passion of mine,” Ellison told the Democrat. “What I am doing today is a way to let people like officer DeSalme, who serve others day in and day out, have an opportunity to let them experience what we have the honor of doing.”
Ellison reviewed the basic information and explained to DeSalme the different maneuvers he would be using throughout the hour-long flight.
SPD Cmdr. Larry Ward nominated DeSalme earlier this year for the Hometown Hero Award.
“Derrick does a great job in the community,” Ward said. “When we heard about the opportunity to nominate someone, we thought he exhibited all of the traits they were looking for.”
DeSalme serves as a patrol officer. Additionally, he became a DARE instructor, working with middle school students this year.
“I love working with the kids,” DeSalme commented. “I try to get in all the schools and be there for the students. I like to talk to them and listen as well.
“I started to mentor some students,” he added. “I want to see them grow up and I want to be somebody they can look up to.”
DeSalme said he always looked up to and admired police officers as a young boy. His father is also one of his role models.
“My dad is a security officer at Six Flags in St. Louis,” DeSalme said. “I always looked up to him and wanted to be like him.”
After attending college at the University of Central Missouri in Warrensburg, he worked as a park ranger in St. Louis for three years, but felt he still “had the bug” to be a police officer.
“I went to the Police Academy in Franklin County and after I completed my training I came to Sedalia,” DeSalme said. “It’s kind of crazy, I love the big city and I grew up in St. Louis, but I can really see myself staying here for the rest of my life.”
“Officer DeSalme is extremely active in the community,” SPD Chief John DeGonia said. “This past Christmas he helped with a coat drive at the department. When he found out that there was a family in need that we did not have any coats to fit them, he took it upon himself to buy them coats and presents.
“He doesn’t want to see people go without,” DeGonia added. “We are all really proud of him. He is a fine young man and officer.”
After his flight, DeSalme told the Democrat: “It was such an amazing flight. Thankfully I didn’t get sick at all. … We did so many stunts and got up to 6G.”
The Wings Over Whitman Open House and Air Show is Saturday and Sunday. Gates open at 9 a.m. each day. The event is free and open to the public.