Md. Wing Flight Academy Continues 28-Year Tradition, Produces 6 New Cadet Pilots
Photos by Lt. Col. John E. Henderson, Maryland Wing Headquarters
Six more Maryland Wing cadets have flown solo for the first time through participation in the wing’s flight academy, which marked its 28th year this summer.
The cadets soloed in CAP Cessna 172s flown out of Hagerstown Regional Airport, joining more than 180 predecessors who have attended the flight academy over the years.
Lt. Col. Robert Ayres founded the academy in 1991 at the request of Col. Eugene Przybylowicz, then Maryland Wing commander. Every year since then, cadets from all over the wing have applied for the academy and the Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Scholarship Program, renamed in honor of the founder, who passed suddenly in 2012.
They participate in a rigorous, competitive selection process that includes evaluation in several areas, including grade point average, interview, résumé and an essay explaining why they want to attend and how they intend to use the training. Applicants are ranked numerically, with the top six chosen to attend the school. All must be at least 16 and have earned CAP’s Gen. Billy Mitchell Award.
The program’s goal is for the cadets not only to solo in the air but also to pass the written Federal Aviation Administration private pilot exam, administered to the cadets at the end of the 10-day flight academy.
This year’s class consisted of:
- Bethesda Chevy-Chase Composite Squadron
Cadet Lt. Col. Vivek Uppoor
- Col. Mary S. Feik Composite Squadron
Cadet Capt. Jordan Regalado
- Frederick Composite Squadron
Cadet Capt. Ronak Chawla
- Glenn L. Martin Composite Squadron
Cadet 2nd Lt. Nicholas Korotunow
- Hagerstown Composite Squadron
Cadet 2nd Lt. Riley Gladhill
- Harford Composite Squadron
Cadet 1st Lt. Benjamin Mullen
Flight instructors for the week were Lt. Col. Pete Loewenheim, the Maryland Wing’s standards and evaluation officer; Maj. Marty Sacks, the wing’s pilot development officer; and Capt. Curtis Berry, Hagerstown Composite Squadron operations officer.
Academy participants are housed in the Hagerstown Composite Squadron’s headquarters at the Hagerstown airport. Simple meals are served for breakfast and lunch, while squadron members serve home-cooked dinners to the staff and cadets each evening.
The instructors worked with the six cadets for 10 days of flying and continued ground school instruction. Three cadets were in the air at a time; those left on the ground study for the FAA exam. Evenings were devoted to classroom training and practice FAA exams.
The cadets participated in two weekends of ground school, followed by flight training.
“Ground school was exhausting,” Korotunow said. “All day you sit and absorb new knowledge that hopefully you remember the following day. The time in between ground school weekends is spent studying the material you learned before.
“It is a continuous cycle of learning and relearning so that no knowledge goes unforgotten. What the instructors do at solo school and how they teach definitely works, and it is shown by the tremendous passing rate on the FAA written exam. I felt more than prepared the day of the test,” he said.
“This school has been the most stressful and nerve-wracking experience of my life,” Regalado said, but added that the two weeks “left me with memories, training and experiences that are unforgettable.”
The cadets worked together in teams of two. Each team was paired with an instructor who mentored and trained the two cadets throughout the week. Once the instructor felt a cadet was ready, he took his place on a hill at the airport, watching his student taxi down the runway and take off into the skies above.
After three takeoffs and landings, the cadet pilot picked up the proud instructor and taxied him back to the remaining participants for congratulatory handshakes and photos.
Upon completing their first solos, the cadets received the traditional water dousing from their classmates. The instructor then carried out another flight school tradition – cutting off his student’s shirt tails. The altered shirts were later inscribed by the instructor and displayed during the graduation ceremony.
“As a flight instructor, it is absolutely exhilarating to start the week with a cadet in the left seat of an airplane for the first time and finish the week with them as they confidently accomplish their checklists, preflight, start and taxi around the airport after speaking on the radio with ATC (air traffic control) and then take off and land,” Sacks said.
“I was impressed with the effort and commitment from all of the cadets. The pace of the school is fast, and it's easy to fall behind, yet the group not only worked hard individually but worked well together and helped one another to succeed,” he said.
“Accelerated flight training like the Robert Ayres Flight Academy is a great way to expose young people to the dream of flying,” Sacks said. “They can get a very realistic view of what it takes to fly and whether a life of aviation might be a fit for them.
“I'm thankful to have the opportunity to be part of the program and watch the lights come on in the eyes of these cadets,” he said.
Previous graduates have built on the skills and lessons imparted by the school, going on to fly for the U.S. Air Force or commercial airlines or to teach a newer generation of CAP cadets how to follow them into the skies.
“Over 180 youth have joined the ranks of pilots across the world as a direct result of this program,” said Lt. Col. John E. Henderson, activity director for the school and vice commander for the wing. “To dream of flight is one thing, but to actually achieve it is an experience that one who has not flown will never be able to understand.”