Flying High: Texas Cadet is First Graduate of CAP's New Cadet Wings Program
By Sheila Pursglove
Texas Wing cadet Emma Herrington today became the first Civil Air Patrol cadet to earn her private pilot’s certificate through the new Cadet Wings program — part of the organization’s Youth Aviation Initiative, funded by the U.S. Air Force.
Herrington earned her certificate after passing her Federal Aviation Administration private pilot practical test. It's an early birthday present: She turns 18 on Friday.
She first took to the skies in childhood, with her father — a pilot, an airframe and powerplant mechanic and owner of an aircraft ignition repair station.
“Aviation is the family trade,” Herrington explained. “These factors, combined with a fascination with anything that flew, nudged me in the right direction. I was 4 when I first started flying with my dad, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
“Flying is a sensation unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced — I love every aspect, from rotation to the chirp of the tires on the pavement. It’s my happy place. I love seeing the world from a different angle, something many people don’t ever get to experience.”
A Passion for Flight
With this passion for flight, Civil Air Patrol was a natural fit for Herrington. She is a cadet chief master sergeant with the Texas Wing’s Sulphur Springs Composite Squadron and is on her way to becoming a cadet second lieutenant.
She joined the Sulphur Springs squadron in April 2017 at age 16, drawn by the commander’s enthusiasm for her aviation aspirations and the fact the unit has a Cessna 172.
“I knew CAP flew missions, but I didn’t know you could train out of CAP aircraft, so when orientation flights were first mentioned, I was ecstatic,” she said.
“I had no idea my first flight with CAP would lead to many more. O-flights are the most important part of a cadet’s journey through CAP, and most importantly, they are free.”
Opportunity to Fly With CAP
After taking advantage of all five orientation flights offered to cadets, Herrington attended the Shirley Martin Powered Flight Academy in Nacogdoches, Texas, one of CAP’s national flight academies. Through the Martin academy, where her instructor was retired Air Force Col. and current CAP Lt. Col. Brian “Jumper” Childs, assistant operations officer for the Texas Wing's Sheldon Cadet Squadron, she received the opportunity to achieve her dream of earning her private pilot’s certificate in the Cadet Wings program. The certified flight instructor, or CFI, who finished up the bulk of her training was Lt. Col. Stephen Hundley, standardizaton/evaluation officer for CAP's Southwest Region.
An important part of Cadet Wings is that acceptance is based entirely on merit and motivation, Herrington said. “It gives aviation-crazy cadets who have drive and discipline the chance to get their license. It’s the answer for those who cannot afford flight training but are desperate to fly.
"The best thing about Cadet Wings is that you’re trained to fly CAP aircraft and all expenses are covered. Without the help of Cadet Wings, I would have been unable to afford my flight training — sadly, this is a problem many cadets face,” she said.
Cadet Wings is just one of many amazing opportunities that can be found nowhere else, Herrington added. “I recommend CAP to every teen I know,” she said. “CAP changed my life, and I think that’s something everyone should experience. Aspiring aviators especially should take advantage of the Cadet Wings program, as the opportunity for a full paid ride is once in a lifetime.”
Although Herrington joined CAP at 16 rather than the earliest eligible age, 12, she has more than made up the lost time. Honor Cadet of the 2017 Texas Wing summer encampment, Honor Cadet of the 2017 Southwest Region Honor Academy, Air Force Association Cadet of the Year for her squadron and a distinguished graduate of the 2018 powered flight academy, she is also her squadron's cadet commander.
“All of my greatest achievements have been through Civil Air Patrol — but the most rewarding is getting my private pilot’s license,” Herrington said. “I’ve been fortunate to achieve much in the short time I’ve been involved, something others can do, too.
“I like the fact CAP is what you make it,” she added. “The organization is overflowing with opportunities for all interests, all the while teaching important life lessons. The cadet program is geared toward the benefit of cadets and helping them find success whenever you join. CAP is a robust organization full of opportunities. It offers leadership positions no other organization does.”
Herrington enjoys watching cadets grow as individuals and as a team. “My favorite activities include aviation NCSAs (National Cadet Special Activities), staffing encampments and working one-on-one with cadets in my squadron,” she said.
Herrington has applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy; and if that doesn’t pan out, she will attend flight school at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas.
“I want to be a pilot, either military or civilian,” she said. “Flying is my passion!”