This differentiated non-fiction reading comprehension article is for Grades 4, 6, 8, and 10. This number one US fighter pilot is terrified of flying but wanted to fly an F-16!

Have your students read this article to find out what happens next!

Psst. Tell your students that’s the same plane you see in Top Gun: Maverick…

I really like this reading comprehension article. It goes well with the Making Connections reading strategy.

Read the Non-Fiction Article:
Keeping A Level Head When Anxiety Is Sky-High

Lt. Col. Rob ‘Waldo’ Waldman has dedicated his life to flying. He is a highly-decorated fighter pilot with over 65 combat missions. He’s also the author of the New York Best Seller Never Fly Solo. Oh, and did I say he’s also an ex-aerophobe? “What’s that?” I hear you ask. You’ll hardly believe it, but it’s someone who fears flying.

Seems pretty unbelievable, right? But trust me, it’s a real-life journey worth strapping in for. The story begins with Waldman as a young boy looking up to his father. His dad was part of the naval airforce and worked as a mechanic at John F. Kennedy International Airport. Waldman would go with his father to work, taking in the surroundings with awe. He remembers his dad coming home after 16-hour shifts. His dad would have cuts on his hands and smelled like jet oil.

“I loved that smell,” he says. He was fascinated on his first airport trip with his father. The rumble of the engines and birds flying above captivated him. His dad sat him in the cockpit of one of the jets. At that moment, the dream was decided. He would grow up to fly planes.

There was only one issue! Waldman was afraid of heights.

But still, firmly, he decided his passion was more significant than his fear. So, in his first year of college, he applied to the Air Force Academy. And thus came his first run-in with anxiety over his long career. A 33-feet high diving board stood in the way of Waldman and graduation. Either he jumped, or he failed. One by one, Waldman watched his classmates leap from the board, 35lbs pack in tow, into the waters below. He was afraid, but there was no way a 33-foot board would stop him from achieving his dreams. So he leaped last, but he jumped, and that’s all that matters.

Due to his bravery, Waldman gained access to pilot training. But unfortunately, there were only a few slots. He missed out on the chance to be a fighter pilot. So, not one to be deterred, Waldman made the wise choice to become an instructor pilot. Still, in the back of his mind, he would always hope that he’d get to fly his beloved F-16 one day.

So far, so good. Waldman had conquered his fear of heights and would spend his days teaching pilots. But the next challenge was around the corner. Tragedy struck when Waldman went scuba diving with his friends. Fresh into the water, Waldman already felt out of his depth. He lost control of the situation. He began to flail. Next, he recalls his mask separating from his face. Waldman breathed in a lungful of burning salt water. Panic set in.

He would later note, “No combat mission could come close to that day.” Even though he swam to the top and was physically fine, the mental scars had been etched.

The next time Waldman took to the air, it was a bleak day. He began to panic as he flew. Even though he was thousands of feet in the air, he felt the same way as when he was hundreds of feet underwater. And it was then that he realized he had claustrophobia. However, this fear wouldn’t be overcome by a leap. Instead, it grew.

He would say, “Words can’t describe the passion I had for flying jets, living my dream, but words also can’t describe some of the fears and doubts I faced every time I strapped into that jet to fly.” As his fear grew bigger than his passion, Waldman knew the answer: keep flying and focus on others. So instead of looking inward, he turned his focus outward. His secret weapon was to become focused on his students. He would help them spread their wings and become the best pilots they could be.

With the wind in his wings, Waldman kept flying. And, despite struggling with occasional claustrophobia, he was ranked number one pilot. Finally, he could choose the jet of his dreams. And, in his own words, “He didn’t want to take the easy way out.” He proudly picked the plane of his dreams. He advised everyone to “choose your F-16 every day; that’s what’s going to get you your wings.”

These days, Waldman works as a public speaker. He shares his inspiration with others. His story has inspired hundreds to take control of their fear and reach their potential.


Now we’ll take a moment to break down Waldman’s incredible story of conquering his fears to achieve his goals. We’ll also look at how we can follow his example by adopting a growth mindset.

Waldman knew what he wanted from the start. Still, he didn’t quite understand how to get there. Nonetheless, as hurdles arose along the way, Waldman faced them down.

There are two life lessons we can learn from this story. One strategy to overcome obstacles is to see if the pros outweigh the cons. This works great when you’re calm, and you can think things through. Another plan to get you out of panic mode is to focus on the task at hand.

Strategy #1: Smart Strategizing

Waldman analyzed his situation, allowing him to solve problems with ease. In the end, instead of listening to his fears, he used them to his advantage. And his secret was simple: smart strategizing.

When he needed to overcome his fear of heights to graduate, he took a step back. He thought about what he had to gain and lose from this one action. And, he decided his future mattered more than the present moment. His on-the-spot strategizing helped him to realize that fear could be beaten. Instead of letting a moment of panic win, he proved to himself that he was capable of great bravery. This moment of bravery saw him through the rest of his career. It allowed him to take to the skies daily and teach new pilots.

Strategy #2: Focus On The Immediate Task At Hand

To fight his claustrophobia, Waldman focused on the task at hand. Only focusing on one thing helped push out the fear and let him get through the tough times. Instead of letting his fear take control, Waldman ignored his fear and focused on what he could. He then his thoughts into action. This strategy slows racing thoughts as actions take center stage in your mind.

Sometimes, if we can reason with our fears, we can create a strategy to beat them. This approach can help us to change over time.

Other times, if we’re panicking, focusing on the immediate task can help us focus.

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