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The Thrill of a Cadet's First Orientation Flight

posted Jul 30, 2015, 7:07 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Aug 16, 2015, 8:37 PM ]
by C/CMSgt N. Kiker
Gainesville, FL

I have been a member of my Squadron, SER-FL-142, for over two years now. I have already found Civil Air Patrol to be a valuable organization with opportunities to learn about airplanes and flight while also gaining the skills of leadership and discipline. One of those opportunities which is available to cadets is Orientation Flights, or “O-Flights” as we call them. I quickly learned that O-Flights are dependent on the weather, as our first scheduled date was canceled due to low cloud cover. Our squadron commander, Captain Oshins, was watching the sky, hoping to reschedule as soon as possible.

Finally on Sunday, February 9, 2014, I went on my first Orientation Flight. My father dropped me off at University Air Center at 12:30 pm. Captain Oshins met me at the door and took me to the pilots' lounge where we started our preparations. After I completed two qualifying tests, Capt. Oshins outlined our flight plan and told me that I would be the one to call the tower, which sounded both intimidating and exciting. I entered my name, my CAPID (Civil Air Patrol Identification), and my school grade on the mission log.

We drove up to the hanger and carried in our books and equipment, then we opened the large sliding doors. Captain Oshins taught me to do the pre-flight check on the Cessna 172. We were satisfied to see that everything was in good working order. Then we pulled the plane out into the hanger taxiway, but before getting in the plane we recorded the engine and running hours, so we could calculate our flying time. Finally we got in, turned the avionics on, and I adjusted my headset volume. As we proceeded to the main taxi way, I radioed Gainesville ground in the control tower, “Gainesville Ground, this is CAP 840, Alpha Hangers, with Foxtrot. Ready to taxi VFR South (Alpha hangers is the group of hangers we were in and Foxtrot is the latest weather report).” They replied with permission to taxi to Runway Seven. Once there, I contacted Gainesville Tower and asked permission to take off. They replied that we were cleared for flight.

As the ground dropped away below us, I was almost bursting with excitement. I was flying! At 1,000 feet we leveled off and flew towards my house which is easy to find on the north side of Payne’s Prairie State Preserve.  I saw my Dad and one of my brothers waving from the back yard. We circled twice and then flew on, climbing to 3,500 feet. I looked around, enjoying the scenery. I also got to fly the plane, for Captain Oshins was flying until now. I practiced a few right and left turns, all the while avoiding restricted air spaces.

The view from 3,500 feet is outstanding. Captain Oshins showed me how to read the instruments in the plane and where we were in relation to the ground. In a quarter of an hour we were about five miles from Cecil Airport near Jacksonville. Captain Oshins radioed Cecil Tower telling them that we were going to land and taxi back to the runway so that we could take off immediately after landing without getting out of the aircraft. As we landed, I was unnerved seeing the runway rush up at us, but then we landed safely without mishaps.

Captain Oshins talked to the tower, and as soon as we landed we were taking off again. An F-18 Hornet was parked outside the main hanger. I wished we could have had a look at it, but our schedule did not allow such an excursion. As we departed Cecil, Captain Oshins told me that we were going to climb to 4,500 feet.

It took us only 25 minutes to get from Jacksonville to Gainesville (a distance almost two hours by car) where we landed and fueled up the aircraft. Aviation fuel is $4.98 per gallon, and we had flown for 0.7 hours. After filling the wing tanks, we taxied back to our hanger and parked the plane. Captain Oshins recorded the flight time, and we took all of our items out of the airplane. I gathered my file and papers from the hanger and we drove back to University Air and debriefed. When I came out of the pilots' lounge, my father and three brothers were waiting for me. I was assailed with questions about the flight, which I was happy to recount in detail.

CAP is a worthwhile organization for young people who want to fly, but much learning and investment of time is required to be prepared. Cadets are expected to know the protocol of the US military and learn respect for other cadets and officers. CAP is more than a club where you are entertained. To gain the full benefit of membership, cadets have to study and use what they learn. I have faced many challenges in CAP that have helped me grow, and when I pass a test or receive a promotion, I feel pride in what I have done. I am thankful for the chance I have to acquire knowledge and training, to distinguish myself amongst my peers, and to be entrusted with the controls of a Cessna 172. I will be eager to sign up for every O-Flight that is offered through my squadron. I will also study hard and climb the ranks of CAP so that I am ready to be of service in the future.

When I think about the many thousands of years that people dreamed of taking to the sky, and how rapidly technology developed since the Wright brothers' first successful powered flight in 1903, it is incredible that a thirteen year-old Civil Air Patrol cadet has the controls of an airplane in his hands. I am living a fantasy that my great-great grandfather and generations of dreamers before him could only have imagined. I am thankful for the many experts who volunteer their time and the U.S. Air Force that sponsors the airplane and fuel to provide this incredible experience for me.