BERLIN — More than 160 Civil Air Patrol cadets will descend on the Knapp State Airport this week during twice-daily encampments, trainings and orientation flights for pilots between the ages of 12 and 21.
Some pilots can start flying solo as young as 14 — two years before they can get a license to drive a car — once they have completed training, passed exams and have the required number of hours in the air, according to officials involved in the program. The program is also available to older adults.
The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a federally supported nonprofit corporation that serves as the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. It is a volunteer organization aimed at attracting aviation-minded members from all walks of life. Its three key missions include: emergency services, such as search and rescue, and disaster relief operations; aerospace education for youth and the general public; and cadet programs for teenage youth.
The origins of Civil Air Patrol date back to 1936, when Gill Robb Wilson, a World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war. Wilson envisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, CAP was also tasked with homeland security and courier service missions, and performs non-auxiliary missions for various governmental and private agencies, such as local law enforcement and the American Red Cross. Many CAP cadets go on to join the military or become commercial pilots.
From July 14-21, cadets from the Vermont and New Hampshire wings of CAP will stay in residence halls at Norwich University, with 12 cadets pairing up daily with an instructor to fly in Cessna 172 and 182 single-engine aircraft to other regional airports in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York, flying two hours each way. Briefings and pre-flight checks are performed before the cadets take to the skies.
Cadets in each plane will take turns sitting up front with the instructor and have a chance to take the controls, as long as the plane is above 1,000 feet, instructors said. There also is a glider training program for cadets, who will fly within gliding distance of Knapp Airport under the direction of Lt. Col. Mark Farley of the New Hampshire CAP.
CAP is primarily run by more experienced cadets who attend non-commissioned leadership schools and go on to train younger cadets, under the supervision of senior officers.
Walt Brown, a senior officer with the New Hampshire squadron of CAP, said the bi-state partnership with Vermont began about 10 years ago, when Norwich University offered to host cadet students. About 150 Norwich cadets have graduated from the program. There are four Vermont CAP groups in Vermont, based in Berlin, Burlington, Rutland and Springfield.
“We were fortunate for CAP working with Norwich University because it was a win-win for both organizations,” said Brown, who graduated from Norwich in 1972. “We have a cadet group that is prone to the same type of principles that Norwich has, and we were looking for a place that would foster what we try to do with cadets.
“So, we come up here and my part of it is we run the aviation program and we partner with the Vermont wing. Our orientation pilots come together, and we provide cadets the opportunity to fly. It’s an orientation flight and it gives an idea of what aviation is besides what there is in a textbook,” he added.
Three Vermont students taking part on Monday included Hannah Smith, 12, of Alburgh; William Bourgeius, 13, of Underhill; and Skye Sularz, 14, of Burlington.
“I wanted to do it because it offered many opportunities,” said Smith, who wants to become a non-commissioned officer, training other cadets in CAP. Smith’s father is a military pilot, serving in Afghanistan.
Sularz said she joined the CAP program after her older sister participated in it two years ago.
“It offers a lot of good opportunities and I’m looking forward to getting a pilot’s license,” Sularz said, although she has yet to decide what area of aviation to pursue.
Bourgeius comes from a family with a military background — his great uncle and grandfather served in World War II.
“When I grow up, I want to be a Navy test pilot, and I thought this would be a good place to get experience flying and the military in general,” said Bourgeius, who said he has flown with his father in an ultra-light. “I find it appealing to fly and especially test out new equipment.”