For all of his 15 years, Chase Fulmer has loved airplanes.

Late last month, the Gahanna teenager took that a step further as he got to join the Ohio Air National Guard.

Fulmer, who is on the autism spectrum, took part in "Pilot for a Day" July 27 at Rickenbacker Air National Guard Base -- a program through which area youths with special needs or life-threatening illnesses are treated to a day of military experiences.

He was "sworn in" to the guard, then spent the morning and afternoon touring the base in Lockbourne, meeting the men and women of the 121st Air Refueling Wing and learning about the planes there.

From the moment he arrived at the base, Fulmer's eyes were alight with joy. Presented with a series of surprises throughout the morning -- from the personalized green flight suit he was given to wear, to the chance to sit in the cockpit of a KC-135 refueling tanker -- he couldn't contain his glee.

His mother, Natalie Fulmer, said Chase has a large collection of die-cast planes. When he was younger, his father, Mathew, would take him to area airports so Chase could watch planes take off and land.

Mr. Fulmer died of a brain tumor in 2013. Mrs. Fulmer, who also has a 14-year-old daughter, Paige, has continued to take her son to airports.

"It makes him so happy," she said. "His hearing is very good; he can tell from afar what aircraft is coming in, what type of jet."

Chase has a particular fascination with plane marshaling -- using hand signals and wands to direct pilots where to taxi. For Christmas last year, his mother bought him a set of wands, she said, "and now sometimes he directs me into the garage."

In the spring, Chase's teacher at Gahanna Middle School West, intervention specialist Heather Turner, called central Ohio airports, hoping that Chase could do some job shadowing (he will be a freshman in the fall at Gahanna's Lincoln High School).

Capt. Courtney Centore, coordinator of the Pilot for a Day program since its 2014 inception, recognized Chase as a good fit.

"Usually, we have worked with Nationwide Children's Hospital to identify kids," he said, "but this one kind of fell into our lap."

After putting on his flight suit, Chase sat with the four-man crew that had planned to take a KC-135 Stratotanker on a training flight. He rode with the crew onto the flight line and was given a thorough tour of the plane. His mother and sister and Turner watched and took plenty of photos as Chase climbed into the cockpit.

"It's an amazing day," Mrs. Fulmer said. "To come here and watch him, it's priceless. I'm so excited and happy. He'll talk about this for weeks -- years."

Turner said her cheeks hurt from smiling so much, and she thought the shadowing served its purpose.

"It makes it more real to him," she said. "He's going to be able to find a place in aviation doing something when he gets older -- something he loves. What a meaningful experience for him."

As Lt. Col. Paul Hughes prepared for takeoff, an approaching thunderstorm forced the flight's cancellation. Chase didn't get to marshal the plane, but he was given a vest and wands and a hurried tutorial before rain forced everyone inside.

Sitting down to a lunch of pizza -- from Flyers, of course -- Chase expressed his satisfaction with the visit.

"Everyone was great," he said.

Told that he could keep his flight suit, Chase beamed again.

"Awwww!," he said. "I'm keeping it!"

kgordon@dispatch.com

@kgdispatch