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Earning their wings

Civil Air Patrol program has cadets flying solo in just days

Civil Air Patrol program has cadets flying solo in just days

July 12, 2007|By SHANNON EPPS

HAGERSTOWN - For the past nine years, Maj. Pete Loewenheim has spent a portion of his summer teaching Civil Air Patrol cadets how to fly.

"These kids are incredibly bright," he said. "It keeps me on my toes because they're so much smarter than I am," Loewenheim said with a laugh.

Loewenheim is one of three instructors who this week are helping with the Maryland Wing Solo Flight Scholarship Program held by the Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing at Hagerstown Regional Airport.

Each summer, six cadets are chosen from the CAP Cadet Program to participate in the solo school, which trains them to fly a Cessna 172 airplane solo. This year's cadets range in age from 16 to 18 years old.

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Lawrence Mayer, 18, of Glen Burnie, Md., said he has been waiting for the opportunity to fly for years.

"I've always wanted to fly since I've been young, so finally I get that chance," he said.

In June, cadets spent a weekend in Frederick, Md., going through classroom training. There, they learned about basic aerodynamics, the fundamentals of flying and Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

After studying at home for a month following the classroom session, cadets were required to apply their knowledge while flying an airplane with instructors. Cadets usually fly solo for the first time halfway through the eight-day program in Hagerstown. This year's program runs from July 6 to 14.

Mayer said he thinks the solo school run by CAP, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is the best program in the area.

"It's way better than the national one," he said, explaining that the program has a student-to-instructor ratio of 2 to 1, and that cadets get 15 hours of flying time, which is three hours more than the national average for beginning pilots.

Maj. John Henderson, project officer for the program, said he has been working with the solo school for eight or nine years. The program is based in Hagerstown because of an abundance of community support, he said.

"A lot of the local organizations really come together to support this school," he said.

The cadets spend most of their time at the CAP building, where there are restrooms, a kitchen and sleeping areas. Each night, the cadets are taken to the Maugansville Fire Co., which offers shower facilities. Parents of local CAP cadets cook dinner for the solo school cadets, Henderson said.

"The support we get up here from the local CAP group, I don't think it can be matched," he said.

The program has graduated nearly 100 cadets since it began in 1991, said Lt. Col. Bob Ayers, founder of the program. He said that many former cadets have used their skills to train others.

"I know at least half a dozen of our former graduates are now flight instructors," he said, adding that another 10 to 12 cadets went on to attend various military academies.

After flying solo for the first time, Mayer commented on how much Ayers helped him become comfortable flying an airplane.

"I started Saturday with him and I could barely keep it (the airplane) straight and level, and now he's got me flying," he said.

Loewenheim said that seeing the cadets' progress was gratifying.

"It's great to see these kids go from having never flown an airplane to (flying solo) by Tuesday or Wednesday," he said.

The Hagerstown resident said he was happy to pass his skills on to young pilots.

"It's very satisfying to be able to take something that I appear to have mastered and transfer that to the younger generation," Loewenheim said.

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