From student to pilot: kids learn to fly

20 Feb 2004 | Lance Cpl. Justin V. Eckersley

Many children grow up with the dream of one day taking to the skies, to fly with the birds and soar above the clouds.With the Civil Air Patrol, those children may grow up to see their dream realized.The program offers students a chance to learn general aviation skills and earn their pilot’s license, according to Cadet 1st Lt. Chris J. Todd, Lowcountry Squadron.The program also acts as a gateway to a military career. After completing the program, cadets are guaranteed a rank of E-3 in the Air Force.The cadets receive promotions in the program based primarily on tests, according to John T. Graves, Squadron Commander, Lowcountry Squadron. The test material includes questions about aerospace science, military leadership and moral leadership. The promotion test also includes a physical fitness evaluation involving running, pushups, and sit-ups, according to Graves.While enlistment is an obvious direction for graduates of the program to take, that is not the main goal of the Civil Air Patrol, according to Todd.“It’s not an organization that pushes you into the military,” said Cadet Senior Master Sgt. Kevin P. Horne, Lowcountry Squadron.Learning to fly is the goal for most of the cadets in the program, according to Horne. A child is first capable of joining the Civil Air Patrol at 11 years of age, and the cutoff for joining is 18 years.A cadet may stay in the program until they are 21 years of age. Over the course of their early years in CAP, cadets learn the mechanics of flying and aeronautics. They take tests study diagrams, and even fly in a glider towed by a regular aircraft.At 16 years of age cadets are eligible for their solo pilot’s license. This license allows them to fly a plane alone in good weather during the day. Having a solo license is similar to having a learner’s permit for a car.A private license is obtainable when a cadet becomes 17 years old, and at first is very similar to a solo license.A pilot may only fly during the day and in clear weather, but may do so with passengers. Several levels of private licenses are attainable, granting the pilot more freedoms as their skills grow. “When you get your private license, you can start going up just have a fun time,” said Horne.