Scholarship Foundation Set Up to Honor Fallen F-16 Pilot’s Legacy

After 1st Lt. David Schmitz died during a routine training exercise in June, his former best man and fellow F-16 pilot vowed to keep his legacy alive by setting up a scholarship foundation in his memory.

“I know he had so much more to give in life. He was so eager for every day of life. He had an impact on so many people. I didn’t want that to ever end,” said Maj. Patrick Bruton, who started the foundation.

Schmitz was killed June 30 when his F-16CM Fighting Falcon crashed at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. He was 33 and assigned to the 77th Fighter Squadron at the base. 

Bruton, who flies F-16s with the 79th Fighter Squadron at Shaw, started a GoFundMe page on July 5, and has already raised $18,952 toward his goal of $25,077—the “77” represents Schmitz’s fighter squadron. Bruton said he will use the money to start the Lt. David Schmitz Foundation, a program to give scholarships to those interested in pursuing a career in aviation.  

“I made a vow to his family and his wife that [his legacy] is something I am gonna keep going for the rest of my life,” said Bruton, who met Schmitz during their first week of Reserve Officer Training Corps at San Diego State University in 2006. The two stayed friends throughout their Air Force careers, and both later became F-16 pilots at Shaw.

Maj. Patrick Bruton (left) and 1st Lt. David Schmitz (right) met at San Diego State University. Photo: Maj. Patrick Bruton/courtesy

Schmitz first got his private pilot’s license when he was 17. Before completing his degree, he enlisted in the Air Force as a C-17 loadmaster, and later became an evaluator loadmaster.

When Schmitz married his wife Valerie in 2013, Bruton was by his side as best man. 

While still enlisted, Schmitz went back to school and finished his undergraduate degree so he could fulfill a dream of being a fighter pilot. He didn’t make his first attempt to get into Officer Training School due to a low grade point average, Bruton said, but he never gave up. He kept studying and managed to bring his GPA up, getting into OTS a year later at the age of 29—a few years before the age cutoff to be a pilot.

Schmitz’s academic efforts inspired Bruton to start the scholarship program. 

“I wanted to help people who may be facing some challenges—like David did—either going through college or trying to find flight lessons,” Bruton said.

Schmitz went on to pilot training and graduated at the top of his class. He was then selected to fly the F-16. After his F-16 training, he joined the 77th Fighter Squadron, also known as the “Gamblers.”  

Anyone interested in having a career in aviation is eligible for a scholarship through the foundation, Burton said, noting that scholarships won’t be limited to those interested in military service. Bruton expects the average award to be somewhere between $2,000 and $5,000.

“If we can impact at least five-15 young, potential aviators each year, I think that will be a great success,” he said.

Bruton plans to have an annual anniversary run on June 30 each year to raise money for the foundation, and he hopes to start giving out scholarships this fall.

“It is our belief, that those driven, intelligent, incredible young individuals that are told ‘no’ one too many times, must also have resources that can help them realize their dreams,” the foundation’s website said.