BERLIN – Stephen Decatur students witnessed a rare treat this week when one of school’s favorite sons, a graduate turned U.S. Navy test pilot landed a Nighthawk helicopter on the football field at Seahawk Stadium on Wednesday morning.
Hundreds of students and teachers, along with a large contingent of Decatur’s ROTC students, filled the bleachers at Seahawk Stadium shortly after 11 a.m. on Wednesday to watch the display. A short time later, the U.S. Navy MH60 Nighthawk helicopter with Lieutenant Ryan Kelchner piloting the aircraft, came in from the west and soared over the crowded bleachers at a fairly low altitude and made a few large circles in the sky over the stadium before gently placing the massive fighter helicopter on the 50-yard-line.
Kelchner, a 1997 graduate of Stephen Decatur and son of long-time Ocean City Police Department Captain Kevin Kelchner, along with his crew members, stepped out of the aircraft moments later and embraced his former high school principal Lou Taylor. Kelchner then greeted family members including his parents before briefing the assembled student body on how he became a Navy helicopter test pilot, where he came from that day and all of the bells and whistles his aircraft deployed.
Before Kelchner could address the students, who were anxiously awaiting the opportunity to explore the helicopter up close and personal, Taylor took the opportunity to explain through the former Decatur student, just how far they could go.
“It’s a unique thing for me to introduce to you someone who came before you who has become so very successful,” he said. “Lieutenant Ryan Kelchner graduated from Decatur in 1997 and went on to do great things as illustrated by his arrival on this field in this way today.”
Kelchner explained he went to the Merchant Marine Academy after graduation for embarking on a career in the U.S. Navy that took him first to Pennsicola, Fla, to Corpus Christie in Texas and back to Pennsicola, where he first earned his wings. After that, Kelchner moved on to San Diego for a time before stints overseas in the Persian Gulf and Somalia. In 2005, he moved to the Navy’s VXI test pilot program at the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, where he began testing various aircraft including the Nighthawk helicopter he gently landed on the Decatur football field on Wednesday.
“I’m the test director for this particular aircraft,” he told the assembled students and teachers. “When the Navy get new toys, we get to test them out on this aircraft.”
Kelchner said he had looked forward to his return to Decatur and told students not much had changed since he graduated in 1997.
“It looks like not much has changed around here,” he said. “Everything pretty much looks the same although those bleachers look much better than what we had when I was here.”
Kelchner said the Nighthawk helicopter was a combat search and rescue aircraft equipped with the most modern technology available. He said the aircraft measures 84 feet from tip to tail and that the Maryland State Police helicopter familiar to the students could fit inside of the Nighthawk. Kelchner said the helicopter reaches top speeds of about 200 mph, and that he made the trip from the Pax River base in southern Maryland in about 30 minutes, a trip he explained would take about three-and-a-half hours by car.
After Kelchner finished explaining his aircraft’s capabilities, the students were invited to examine the Nighthawk helicopter group by group. The students then explored the aircraft from front to back and side to side with several climbing inside and onto the Nighthawk.