07:56 AM

Minn. Wing 4-Pilot Family Soars on 'Cadet Wings'

Paul South
Contributing Writer

Like all parents, Cathy Plasschaert was a bundle of nerves the first time her daughters, Tabitha and Taylor, got behind the wheel for their driver’s test.

And even though she’s a seasoned Delta Air Lines pilot and and a Civil Air Patrol major who’s deputy commander of the Minnesota Wing’s Mankato Composite Squadron, those jitters showed up too when her girls tested for their private pilot certificates.

But those natural fears were grounded when Plasschaert saw her daughters’ faces after each successfully earned their wings.

“It is exciting and challenging to teach your child to drive a car and quite another (experience) to teach your child to fly an airplane,” Plasschaert said. ”The first time they soloed was exciting and stressful, as it is for every parent. 

“But to see the excitement and that level of confidence on your daughter’s face once she parks the airplane and shuts down the engine is incomparable.”

According to Women in Aviation International, only 7.9% of certified private pilots and 4.5% of commercial pilots are women. Through the Cadet Wings program, CAP is doing its part to help young people explore and achieve their career dreams – especially opening doors for young women in aviation.

The Plasschaert family, all either senior or cadet members of the Mankato Composite Squadron, are doing their part to – in their own way – bring more diversity to the skies.

Taylor, 17, and Tabitha, 19, are both pilots, grads of Cadet Wings. Taylor earned her private pilot’s certificate earlier this month. Tabitha was the fourth cadet to do so through the program, in May 2019.

She was also the first of seven cadets – so far; Maj. Plasschaert said an eighth is on track to join them – in the Mankato squadron to earn their certificates through the program; sister Taylor was the sixth in the unit and the 57th overall.

The other five Mankato squadron cadets achieving their certificates via Cadet Wings are:

  • Cadet 2nd Lt. Sarah Skjeveland (No. 51)
  • Cadet Airman Kayla Nowak (No. 53)
  • Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Jacqueline Busch (No. 54)
  • Cadet Airman Sadie Blace (No. 56)
  • Cadet Airman Michael McCue (No. 58)

In addition to serving as her daughters’ flight instructor, Maj. Plasschaert filled the same role for Blace and McCue. She was the FAA examiner for Skjeveland, Nowak and Busch as well.

Except for Tabitha, the cadets all secured their certificates came in just over a month, from Aug. 16 -Sept. 18.

Cadet Wings is part of CAP’s Youth Aviation Initiative. The merit-based Wings program provides flight training for cadets pursuing a private pilot’s certificate. The certificate is considered by the aviation community to be the first step for those who want a flying career. The program’s goal is to bring more young people, especially young women and minorities, into aviation.

The Plasschaert sisters credit their parents and Cadet Wings for inspiring them to fly.

“The best advice that I have gotten from both of my parents was that if you love what you're doing, then you need to work hard for it,” said Taylor Plasschaert, a high school senior. “If you don't love it, then you need to find something that you love to do. This has been shown by my mother every day, as anyone can see how much she loves to fly, and luckily both my sister and I were able to have that love of flying.”

Of the 62 cadets who have achieved their private pilot certificate with the Cadet Wings program so far, beginning in January 2019, 17 are female. Since July, when COVID-19 restrictions eased, seven of the 14 cadets who have earned their certificate are female.

Taylor Plasschaert hopes other young women will embrace her family’s passion for the skies.

“I think that the women in the aviation community is so empowering. I've met so many strong and powerful women. ... They are such good role models for me,” she said.

“Also of course my mother is the biggest role model for me. She gives back to the aviation community so much and cares about aviation. ... I think that women in aviation are becoming much more common than before,” she said.

Tabitha Plasschaert, 19, a student at Mankato State University, praised the Wings program, saying it motivated her to get her private pilot certificate as soon as possible. She calls Cadet Wings “amazing” and “inspiring.”

Her parents, both former CAP cadets, propelled their daughters’ love of aviation.

Aviation as a whole has been part of my life and my family's life ever since I can remember,” Tabitha Plasschaert said. “My first commercial flight was when I was 3 months old. And my whole family has always shown such a love for aviation and travel.”

She added, “I’m so lucky to have a mom as an airline pilot, so I can travel more. I remember on my 14th birthday me and my mom went for a flight in a Civil Air Patrol Cessna 172, and ever since that day I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I think that my family is very close because we do so many family vacations and we all have a love for aviation,”

Maj. Plasschaert believes as more girls and minorities join the Wings program, others will follow.

“I think this is an amazing program, and the more minorities we bring into the program the more that will follow,” she said. “When you see someone like yourself doing something, you immediately think that you can do it, too.”

She urged cadets to join and meet requirements of the Wings program and senior members to mentor aspiring aviators.

“We couldn’t be more proud of our daughters. They have a love of flying and are pursuing their dreams. I hope each cadet that wants to fly takes advantage of the opportunities that CAP has to offer. Cadet Wings is a great program.”