Faith was ‘right stuff’ for Baylor grad test pilots

Maj. Nathan Yerrick poses in front of an F-18 while attending Air Force Test Pilot School. (Courtesy of Nathan Yerrick)

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EDWARDS AFB (ABP)—More than 10 years in the Air Force and successful completion of test pilot school gave Maj. David Aparicio the tools he needs to endure massive gravity forces, evaluate state-of-the-art aircraft and even disarm improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

It didn’t prepare him to preach a Sunday service at a forward operating base in the combat zone. So, the Baylor University graduate relied on his Baptist upbringing and Christian faith to help him with that daunting mission.

pilot aparicio plane425Maj. David Aparicio in front of a two-seat version of the MiG-15. (Courtesy of David Aparicio)“I had never done that before in my life,” said Aparicio, currently stationed at Edwards Air Force Base in California. “You have to pray that God will give you the tools to do it right.”

The importance of faith as an ingredient in “the right stuff” was highlighted recently as Aparicio and three other Baylor graduates completed the Air Force’s Test Pilot School at Edwards.

One of the officers, Maj. Nathan Yerrick, said the atmosphere in today’s Air Force is accommodating to people of faith, making a career pushing the envelope of flight compatible with Christian belief and practice. In fact, the late-night partying and hard-drinking lifestyle depicted in films like 1983’s The Right Stuff largely are a thing of the past, said Yerrick, a 2003 Baylor graduate.

“That’s definitely the old culture,” said Yerrick, a flight-test engineer and wing executive officer at Edwards. “The swagger and the macho persona—that’s mostly just Hollywood now.”

That’s fine with Yerrick, who grew up in Fort Worth attending both Baptist and nondenominational churches, and he currently attends a nondenominational church. Not having to negotiate the bravado that typified previous decades of flight-testing officers enhances the ability to focus on demanding and sometimes-dangerous assignments, he said.

test pilot school logo200As a flight-test engineer and flight-test conductor, it’s been Yerrick’s job to plan and monitor the testing of aircraft, weapons and various avionics systems. Sometimes that means running the show from the ground, communicating with pilots, and other times it requires being aboard the aircraft.

“You have to be prepared to handle any emergency,” he said.

And there are plenty of chances for things to go wrong.

“Test Pilot School was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Aparicio said. “I flew 25 different aircraft in 48 weeks.”

Aparicio, who graduated from Baylor in 2003, grew up in Texas where he attended Sugar Land Baptist Church near Houston and, while in college, Woodway First Baptist Church in Waco. His faith prepared him for the rigors of a military career—especially when he was tasked with disarming improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan.

“My faith in God made the job easier, and he took care of me in some very tense situations,” he said. “He provided a sense of calm in the storm, which allowed me to do my job and lead.”

And it helped one Sunday when the unit’s chaplain had to visit another post, leaving Aparicio just a couple of days to write, and then deliver, a sermon. It “gave me a great appreciation of what a pastor must do to prepare,” he said.

And which was more frightening—disarming IEDs or delivering a sermon?

“Both were intimidating,” Aparicio said.

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