National Flight Academies Spur Young Aviators’ Airborne Dreams
Twenty-nine years ago, before there was ever talk of a pilot shortage, the Civil Air Patrol squadron in historic Hagerstown, Maryland, near the West Virginia border was hard at work, helping young people fall in love with flight.
This summer, as part of a network of CAP National Flight Academies, the Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Academy in Hagertown will graduate 10 future aviators — five boys and five girls — who are hoping to become the latest in a long tradition of Ayres academy alumni who have gone on to soar for the military, the airlines and business.
Lt. Col. John Henderson is the Maryland Wing’s vice commander for operations and the activity director for the Ayres academy. In 1991 it was called the Maryland Wing Solo School, and then it was renamed for Ayres in 2012 following his death. The academy became part of CAP’s flight academy network this year – one of six new additions to the network. The other five:
- Alaska Wing Glider Flight Academy – Clear Air Force Station, Alaska
- Texas Wing Advanced Flight Training Academy – Brownsville, Texas
- Utah Wing Day School Powered Flight Academy – West Jordan, Utah
- New Jersey Wing Falcon Flight Academy – Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey
- Washington Wing Desert Eagle Joint Flight Academy – Ephrata, Washington
A caveat: These “new” academies may have existed for some time. But now they are part of a national system and the broader mission to expand the flight academy network and provide greater access to aircraft for training.
The academies, part of CAP’s overarching mission of aerospace education, help cadets get their foot in the aviation door. Some, like the Hagerstown academy, have been training cadets for decades, said Wendy Hamilton of the Cadet Programs staff at CAP National Headquarters. National Headquarters and donors help fund academy programs across the country to reduce costs for cadets and their families.
The Ayres academy’s goal is for participants to not only solo an aircraft but also pass the Federal Aviation Authority Private Pilot Computerized Examination, which is part of the school.
“When you get to solo, that indicates to other people that you have the attitude and the aptitude to be successful in an airplane,” Hamilton said. “We try to get them to that first milestone.
“And for those cadets who aspire to be pilots, they can take that logbook and they can use it to get a leg up on their training, to get their private pilot’s certification, which is an industry standard of success. It’s your first step to everything else.”
Even for flight academy participants who choose not to pursue the pilot path, important lessons are learned.
“They walk away with a better understanding of what it is to fly an airplane,” Hamilton said. “Therefore, if they choose another aviation-centric job, they are much more knowledgeable about what it is they are contributing to, whether it’s building an airplane, helping pilots get certification, schedulers, anything that revolves around flight. They’ve got firsthand experience now.”
For admission to the Ayres academy, cadets must meet a series of criteria — a Gen. Billy Mitchell Award recipient, completion of five orientation flights and a “C” academic average in schoolwork, as well as medical clearance. Applicants must also submit a resume’ and an essay on how they would apply the training in life and be interviewed by a panel, to test their commitment to aviation.
While seven cadets in the upcoming Ayres academy are homegrown Maryland youth, two others come from Virginia and one from the Chicago area.
“We didn’t want the cadet who just wanted a device to put on their uniform,” Henderson said. “We wanted a cadet that truly wanted to get into aviation.”
The Ayres academy conducts two weekend ground schools in May and June, leading up to the 10-day academy in July. It’s like a micro-air university course for future aviators. At Ayres, pilots get 15 hours of education and training before soloing and completing the written FAA exam at the end of the academy.
The Maryland Wing and its volunteers also fuel the prospective pilots with a week’s worth of home-cooked meals.
Cadet-centered initiatives like the National Flight Academies are one step as Civil Air Patrol works to expand training initiatives in the future, as part of the ongoing mission to address the pilot shortage. According to the FAA, in 2017 the U.S. had 609,000 pilots, down from 827,000 30 years ago – a drop of some 30 percent. Retirements have hit the profession hard, as has as the high costs of training. The flight academies hope to ease that cost burden.
Thanks to funding from the U.S. Air Force, CAP cadets can pursue their private pilot certificate through the organization’s new Cadet Wings program and continue their training in a future program, hoping to earn their instrument and instructor ratings. CAP is also working to find ways to encourage senior members to work as mentors and instructors for young pilots.
Diversity is also a CAP goal. The flight academies fit in that mission.
“By having more flight academies join the system and teach a similar curriculum, that allows us to give this flight experience to more cadets from across the nation, not just a local area,” Hamilton said. “What you tend to find is instead of a bunch of kids going because it’s what they have available, you have cadets that are truly interested. It increases the diversity piece by making it more accessible in more locales than we have had in the past.”
Where do the flight academies fit in the broad mission of Civil Air Patrol?
“It’s the perfect classroom,” Hamilton said. “I can’t imagine a better classroom than the cockpit of an airplane to teach one of the four pillars of the cadet experience, aerospace education. Taking a test is one thing, but actually experiencing flight ... It’s the ultimate STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activity.”
Thanks to Air Force funding, cost to the cadet is about $800 – only about one-third of the $2,500 total price tag.
“It’s a great testament to what the Air Force has done for us to put more money into the program that allows us to bring more cadets on and to reduce the cost of those academies,” Hamilton said.
As for the flight academies’ impact, consider the Ayres academy in Hagerstown.
Over the years some 175 Ayres graduates have gone on to fly for airlines, military aviation and corporate aviation, piloting C-5s and F-16s, all manner of aircraft. Some have gone on to the Air Force Academy. The program has also produced Wings Scholarship recipients.
“It’s good to see. We’ve got people who are flight instructors, cargo pilots, airline and military pilots — they’re all over the place,” Henderson said. “That’s the purpose of this program, to give these cadets an avenue into aviation, where a lot of them don’t have that guidance.”
Here is a complete list of CAP’s 2019 National Flight Academies (24 in all, at 17 locations nationwide):
Alaska Wing Glider Flight Academy
Clear Air Force Station, Alaska
May 24-June 2
Texas Wing Shirley Martin Cadet Powered Flight Academy
Texas Wing Advanced Flight Training Academy
North Central Region Powered Flight Academy
Illinois Wing Lt. Col. Raymond Johnson Flight Academy (Week 1, Powered Flight)
Illinois Wing Lt. Col. Raymond Johnson Flight Academy (G-1000, Powered Flight)
Great Lakes Region Powered Flight Academy
Illinois Wing Lt. Col. Raymond Johnson Flight Academy (Balloon)
Southwest Region Powered Flight Academy
Illinois Wing Lt. Col. Raymond Johnson Flight Academy (Glider)
Illinois Wing Lt. Col. Raymond Johnson Flight Academy (Week 2, Powered Flight)
Northeast Region Powered Flight Academy
Old Town, Maine
Northeast Region Glider Academy
Middle East Region Col. Roland Butler Powered Flight Academy
Camden, South Carolina
June 29-July 7
Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Academy (+FAA Written)
Texas Wing Glider Flight Academy (South)
Utah Wing Day School Powered Flight Academy
West Jordan, Utah
North Central Region Joint Flight Academy (Glider)
North Central Region Joint Flight Academy (Powered)
Southeast Region Glider Flight Academy
New Jersey Wing Falcon Flight Academy
Lakehurst Naval Air Station, New Jersey
Washington Wing Desert Eagle Joint Flight Academy (+FAA Written)
Northeast Region Glider Flight Academy Week 1
July 27-Aug. 4
Northeast Region Glider Flight Academy Week 2