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Glen Cove High School graduate Nick Cavallone is flying high in the Air Force

A USAF pilot on assignment as an instructor

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Nick Cavallone is soaring to new heights in his career with the U.S. Air Force, as he prepares to teach the next generation of the “world’s greatest pilots.”

Cavallone, a member of the Glen Cove High School class of 2014, was promoted to first lieutenant last May after becoming a second lieutenant in 2018. He is currently stationed at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph for pilot instructor training — far from his fiancé, Heather Coken, a nurse at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. They got engaged on Dec. 29.

Nick’s mother, Linda Cavallone, who lives in Pennsylvania, calls the couple “the pilot and the nurse.” “They are two amazing people that are both selfless, and are going to continue through the rest of their lives together taking care of strangers,” she said.

Joining the Air Force had been her son’s dream since he was a child. Now 24, he looks forward to sharing his passion by teaching aspiring USAF pilots.

“Lieutenant Cavallone’s accomplishments never cease to amaze us,” said Glen Cove City Schools Superintendent Dr. Maria L. Rianna. “Our district is proud of his unwavering commitment to our country. His promotion is certainly well deserved, and we are confident that he will do a remarkable job training others.”

Linda Cavallone described her son as a typical Leo growing up in Glen Cove, because he got along with everyone. “He always wanted to be with friends, whether it was sports or play dates,” she recalled. “He always enjoyed being outside in nature, just going to different places like museums.”

And Nick was always fascinated by airplanes. When his mother took him to NASCAR races, he wouldn’t show much interest in the race cars. It was the jets racing across the sky during the military acknowledgements that captivated him. “After that,” he remembered, “I was kind of bored.”

“Who would know that, decades later, he would be getting his pilot wings and serving the country?” his mother said.

The Glen Cove School District always supported him, Nick said, sending him to Nassau BOCES Barry Tech. He enrolled in the trade school’s aviation operations program, and learned how to fly a Cessna 172 and a Piper Warrior.

After graduating from both the high school and the BOCES program, he attended Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn., from 2014 to 2018. While there, he had a dual enrollment in the Air Force ROTC program hosted by Yale University in New Haven, and he studied aerospace two days a week. In 2015 he was awarded an in-college scholarship by the Air Force, which covered the rest of his tuition. That summer he attended Air Force Field Training at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, continuing in the ROTC program so he could be commission as an officer when he graduated from college.

In 2017 Cavallone was selected to become a pilot in the Air Force after graduation. A year later, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant and completed the ROTC program as a distinguished graduate.

Then he served as a Gold Bar Diversity Recruiter in Philadelphia, reaching out to students across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware and sharing with them what the Air Force had to offer. “That was really cool,” he said, adding that he often told them about his experiences growing up in Glen Cove.

In May 2019, Cavallone moved to the Columbus Air Force Base in Columbus, Miss., where he spent 18 months flying the T-6 Texan II and T-1A Jayhawk trainer aircraft, logging over 150 hours on the way to becoming a rated Air Force pilot.

Asked for his favorite flight story, he recounted flying to Charleston, S.C., and Tallahassee, Fla., as part of his cross-country flights requirements for pilot training. During those flights, he worked with air traffic controller at busy airports, once taking off with an American Airline 747 right behind him. 

“Taking off is pretty mechanical — you just set the throttles to a certain part and you get X amount of feet down the runway and you lift off,” he said. “Landing takes a lot more finesse. Landing is definitely the trickiest part for most students, but after a while, it just clicks.”

Asked what it’s like to be an Air Force mom, Linda said she was proud of her son. “My side of the family are all firefighters and police, so just to carry on protecting people, strangers that you don’t know, is an honor,” she said. “It’s quite scary, it’s nerve-racking, but exciting. It just warms your heart.” The national anthem, she added, now has special meaning for her.

“When the planes go by,” she said, “I’ll just look up there and I’ll make the sign of the cross: ‘God bless you up there, be safe, whoever you are.”

Courtney Citko, a friend of the Cavallone family from Sea Cliff, said that she shared Nick’s story with her young children, all of whom were inspired and impressed by what he has accomplished in his mid-20s.

Last October, he became a rated Air Force pilot, and was selected to remain stationed in Columbus as a first assignment instructor pilot for the T-1A Jayhawk, until he was sent to Texas.

When he returns to Mississippi in May, he will be joined by Coken. They are looking forward to their wedding in 2022.