Over the skies of Hagerstown, six Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing cadet officers flew in Cessna 172 aircraft with the goal of soloing for the first time. This event was the culmination of their training and study. The cadets, from all around Maryland, participated in the Maryland Wing Solo School, a unique program celebrating its 21th anniversary this year.
Lt. Col. Robert Ayres founded the school in 1991 at the request of the Maryland Wing commander. Since its inception, the school has introduced over 150 cadets to aviation. Cadets from all over the wing apply for the school and then participate in a rigorous and competitive selection process where cadets are evaluated on several areas, including their grade point average, interview, resume and an essay explaining why they want to attend the school and what they will do with the training. Applicants are ranked numerically and the top six are chosen to attend the school. All cadets must be at least 16 years of age, and have earned their Mitchell Award.
“This year’s graduating cadets and their instructors endured days of record heat waves while conducting their flight training. The dedication and motivation of the cadets towards achieving their solo persevered and each cadet soloed by the end of the week,” commented Maj. John Henderson, project officer for the school.
Cadets participate in a weekend ground school, held at the Hagerstown Composite Squadron headquarters a month prior to the flight portion of the academy which is held at the Hagerstown Regional Airport. The goal of the program is for the cadets to not only solo in the aircraft, but to pass the written FAA private pilot exam, which is administered to the cadets at the end of the ten day flight academy. Lt. Col. Robert Ayres, Maryland Wing Aircraft Maintenance Officer, assisted by Capt. Curtis Berry of the Hagerstown Composite Squadron, was the primary instructor during the ground school.
Three instructors work with the six cadets in an intense ten days of flying and continued ground school instruction. Three cadets are in the air at a time while those left on the ground study for the FAA exam. Evenings are classroom training and practice FAA exams.
Those participating in the program are housed in the Hagerstown Composite Squadron headquarters at the Hagerstown Regional Airport. Simple meals are served for breakfast and lunch, while members of the Hagerstown squadron serve home-cooked dinners to the staff and cadets each evening.
Led by Henderson, the selection process began in January with a call for applications. While cadets around the Wing put together their application packages, Henderson put together a team of well-qualified instructors to assist with selections and to teach at the school. Flight instructors for the week included Ayres, Maj. Pete Loewenheim, Maryland Wing’s Standards and Evaluation Officer, and Capt. Kevin Martin, Maryland Wing’s Director of Operations.
The cadets that were selected to attend this year’s school are:
Cadet 2nd Lt. Max Adler – Towson Composite Squadron
Cadet Maj. Aaron Hull – Frederick Composite Squadron
Cadet 1st Lt. Kevin Lohoefer – Mt. Airy Composite Squadron
Cadet 2nd Lt. Steven Passalacqua – Annapolis Composite Squadron
Cadet Capt. John Rowan – Calvert Cadet Squadron
Cadet Capt. Jeff Williams – Bowie Composite Squadron
Cadets worked together in teams of two, each team paired with an instructor that would mentor and train them throughout the week. Once the instructor felt the cadet was ready, he would take his place on a hill at the airport, watching his student taxi down the runway and take off into the skies above the airport. After three take offs and three landings, the student would pick up his proud instructor and taxi him back to where the rest of the school were waiting for the congratulatory handshakes and photos.
Each cadet, upon successfully completing their first solo, was then congratulated by their classmates with the traditional water dousing. The instructor would then cut the back of the shirt from the student, signifying cutting the shirt tails of their student. These shirts would later be inscribed by the student’s instructor and displayed during the graduation ceremony. At the end of the week, the cadets each received their well earned solo wings during the pinning ceremony. The next morning, they finished their work by taking the FAA Private Pilots exam.
An activity of this level is only possible with the support of many people and organizations. Members of the Hagerstown Composite Squadron once again supported by providing meals for the participants: Capt. Curtis Berry, Kate Berry, Capt. Charlie Summers, Capt. David Hartung, Major and Mrs. Doug Lundgren. The Hagerstown Regional, Richard A. Henson Field Fire Department allowed the use of their facilities for showers during the week as well as the end of week graduation ceremony.
Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 113 lives in fiscal year 2010.
Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 26,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 69 years. It is the largest sponsor annually of Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. For more information on the Civil Air Patrol, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com or www.capvolunteernow.com.
There are more than 1,500 members of CAP in Maryland. Last fiscal year wing members flew 42 search and rescue missions and were credited with 31 finds. For more information about the CAP, visit www.mdcap.org.