FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – A routine flight on Nov. 2 was much more than that for two Pennsylvania National Guard pilots, as it encapsulated a family’s unwavering commitment to service and a shared love for aviation.
That morning, 2nd Lt. Zack Adams, a recent flight school graduate, got to fly a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter alongside his father, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Rich Adams, a veteran of Army aviation.
According to Zack, a platoon leader with Alpha Company, 2-104th General Support Aviation Battalion, 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, his father was his hero growing up and he wanted to become a helicopter pilot like him.
“My father has always been a huge role model for me both in life and now inside the cockpit. It doesn’t happen very often for someone to begin their career field where one of the most senior and skilled individuals also happens to be their father,” Zack said. “I have this privilege of learning from the best.”
Upon graduating from the U.S. Army Initial Entry Rotary Wing school at Fort Novosel, Alabama, an aviator returns to their assigned unit to learn to tactically employ their aircraft on military missions. They train and grow as aviators in a process broken up into three readiness levels.
The Adams’ flew together for Zack’s first flight of his readiness level progression, with Rich as his instructor pilot.
With crisp air and fall foliage as a backdrop, their flight originated at Muir Army Heliport and took them around the Harrisburg and Fort Indiantown Gap areas.
Inside the cockpit, their interaction was professional — instructor pilot to pilot-in-training. But their connection as father and son was apparent with occasional comments like “been waiting a long time to say that” from Rich when he handed over control of the helicopter to Zack. Or “not a bad life” from Zack as they took in the moment and the views from the sky.
Rich is the command chief warrant officer for the 28th Expeditionary Combat Aviation Brigade, a full-time standardization instructor pilot and aviation mission survivability officer. He has served on multiple combat tours over his 34-year career, including 1,500 hours of missions in an AH-64 Apache helicopter during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2006, where he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross. He has flown nine types of helicopters.
Even after such a long career, Rich says this experience with his son will stay with him forever.
“The opportunity to fly a military helicopter with Zack has always been in the back of my mind. However, if anyone knows how challenging the path can be, I never assumed it would happen,” Rich said. “Here we are, a few years into his service and me near the end of mine, and the culmination of planning is met with opportunity.”
Among their family and friends, there is a running joke that Zack had been conditioned from birth to want to fly. Rich acknowledges he may have planted a seed there, as many fathers who love their profession also do with their children. But the path to becoming a pilot requires years of hard work, preparation and discipline, and Zack followed the blueprint himself.
“I always get people saying I have been brainwashed since birth with all the helicopter toys, being taken to airshows and listening to all the stories from my father,” Zack said. “Although those things certainly contributed to my desire to fly, I find that for myself, what made me want to start this career is wanting to experience the joy of flying while supporting my desire to serve our great nation.”
Many may expect Zack to emulate his father’s experience and skills. Zack holds himself to high standards, but for now, he is soaking everything in, taking advantage of the lessons he can learn from his father and making his own path.
“The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone is to make their career their own journey. If there is someone that you emulate and aspire to become just like, know that your paths will never be exactly the same,“ he said. “Find a path that best suits you and strive to get to where you want to be and never give up on that.“