Nun finally gets her wish to fly with the Angels in an F-18

abredeson@islandpacket.comMay 19, 2012 

Sister Annunciata Wentz has always been fascinated with aviation. As a young child, she dreamt of blasting off into outer space. She spent hours gazing at the stars through her telescope.

In grade school she joined the Civil Air Patrol and got to fly in a Cessna. In high school she went to the space academy.

"I wanted to be able to look down from way up there and see God's Earth and all that he created below my feet," said Wentz, a second-grade teacher at St. Francis Catholic School on Hilton Head Island.

When a fighter pilot spoke at Career Day at Wentz's high school, she was in heaven. From that point on, she dreamt of flying an F-18 Hornet.

"I prayed from the tips of my toes that if this was at all possible that this would happen," she said. "And little did I know that the answer for that point was no. But several years later God was going to bring that prayer to fruition."

Wentz's dream finally took flight earlier this month, when an angel of sorts took her on that long-awaited ride in an F-18.

DIVINE AVIATION

Wentz said about a year ago she had a conversation with the mother of a retired fighter pilot. She told the woman about her dream to fly in an F-18. The woman showed Wentz a video of her son flying.

"All I said was, 'Oh, I'd love to do that,' " Wentz said.

The woman, Kate Tibbits, spoke to her son about Wentz later that day. Her son, retired U.S. Marine Corps Major Jim Bernthal, said at first he thought there was no way he could make it happen for the nun.

"I kind of felt this nudge from God, saying 'There's something you can do,' " Bernthal said. "And I thought, 'No, there's not.' ... And finally one day it just came to me. I'm like, 'Oh my gosh. I'm going to figure out how to nominate her for a VIP ride with the Blue Angels.' "

So after doing a little detective work, Bernthal found the information he needed about the Blue Angels' Key Influencer Program. The program gives certain people the opportunity to fly in t the group's only two-seat jet. Public figures, teachers, guidance counselors and others who influence youth are selected for the program. Key Influencers must be nominated by a commanding officer of a Navy or a Marine Corps recruiting district, according to the Blue Angels website.

Bernthal wrote a letter of recommendation for Wentz, and in February she received the news that she was chosen to fly with a Blue Angel.

"I was just so excited," Wentz said. "I kept saying, 'I can't believe this is really happening.' "

THE FLIGHT

On May 2, the soft-spoken sister stuffed her entire habit into a flight suit, climbed up a ladder into the back of the Blue Angels jet No. 7 and prepared for takeoff.

Blue Angels pilot Lt. Mark Tedrow flew her out of Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point in North Carolina. She said Tedrow walked her through every step of the way, explaining which buttons he was pushing and what was happening throughout the experience.

"The takeoff was the most incredible part because basically you're going down the runway just like a normal jet, only faster," Wentz said. "You lift off just a little bit so you're just right above the treetops or so. And then all of a sudden he tips that nose up, and you go straight in the air. I knew that was coming and I still screamed. ... It was amazing."

Wentz said Tedrow showed her how fast he could fly, how slowly he could fly. He flew inverted, upside down and did all sorts of other maneuvers with her.

"There's no way any of that could've happened just randomly like that -- you know, 15 years later, after I prayed from the tips of my toes," Wentz said. "It's just one of those little special things that (God) does. He's really that real. He wants to be that much a part of our lives. ... I don't deserve having received this ride, and yet he made it happen."

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