Cadets earn their wings at flight academy in Shawnee

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
Friends and family members take photos of the group of cadets to complete the 2021 Civil Air Patrol National Flight Academy.

Students from around the country descended on Shawnee recently when they took part in the Civil Air Patrol National Flight Academy June 21-28.

Robin Rowden, acting director and finance officer, said this year's academy had 20 students from 12 states, including Oklahoma, and spanning ages 16 to 18. Thirteen of those students were able to do solo flights, and all 20 completed the program.

“We got weathered out yesterday,” she said at a brunch event Tuesday. “So we did not get as many hours of flight time as we would have liked to. We've been fighting weather this entire week.”

It's time that is still well-used, however. Rowden said when weather conditions don't allow flights, the students spend time in ground instruction. In all, they receive about 25 hours of ground instruction, and about 10 hours of flight instruction with certified flight instructors.

Flight academy instructor Charlie Ewers gives his cadets their wings at Tuesday’s brunch.

This year, she said, there were 10 instructors with combined, logged flight hours and experience of more than 110,000 hours.

And though not all of the students were able to take solo flights, Rowden said the academy helped them build a foundation.

“We hope we give enough of a background and a foundation to build on so they can go back to their home states and find another instructor that will carry on and help them to continue through that flight training,” she said.

Through the years, Rowden said many of the cadets have gone on to serve in the military, or work in mechanics, aerospace or engineering.

“Some will, I have no doubt, go forth and become pilots,” she said, whether commercial, airline, or even charter pilots.

Rowden added that one local young man earned his wings from the academy in 2019 and went on to receive a Wings scholarship. He, she said, has hopes of becoming an air firefighter.

“It varies,” she said. “They all have dreams and ambitions.”

In a typical day, Rowden said the cadets have breakfast, go to the airport, do pre-flight on the aircraft, get their releases, go out with instructors to do a flight, return and swap seats with a fly buddy, and then go out again.

“Every time we start up the engine, we call that a sortie, and we've flown over 300 sorties in seven days here,” Rowden said.

Cadet Katie Perez from Georgia receives her wings.

The students also earn call signs at the academy, which they give to one another based on incidents and things that happened while at the academy. One cadet, she said, received hers because she found a box turtle she was fascinated with.

“This year, I will have to say, our cadet students and staff have bonded very quickly and very early on,” she said. “Usually they start about halfway through the program getting together, but this group this year just immediately, from day one.”

The cadets earned their wings at a brunch Tuesday morning at Oklahoma Baptist University, where friends and family watched as instructors pinned wings on each of the cadets.

The flight academy’s “ramp rats” were recognized at Tuesday’s brunch.

Cadet Katie Perez, whose call sign was “Turtle” at the academy, came from Georgia and said it was a great experience to be able to get 10 hours of flight, 25 hours of ground instruction, plus room and board and breakfast.

“It was a unique opportunity,” she said. “We networked a lot.”

When asked if some of the cadets planned to stay in touch after they all go back home, Perez and others at her table gave a unanimous and enthusiastic “yes,” with at least one comment that maybe they could fly to visit each other.

Bill Rowden, one of the instructors at the academy, asked the cadets “Are you the same person as you were a week ago?” When they said no, he added, “The sin is if you stop. You never stop moving forward.”

Cadets wait to receive their wings after completing the 2021 Civil Air Patrol National Flight Academy.

Tina Bridenstine is a reporter for The Shawnee News-Star. She can be reached at tina.bridenstine@news-star.com or 405-214-3934. Follow her on Twitter @tbridenstine1