MACHIAS, Maine — Up, up and away into the wild blue yonder went eight Civil Air Patrol cadets Friday afternoon — some of them experiencing their first flight ever.
Two volunteer pilots flew to Machias on Friday to offer orientation flights for the teens. They flew to Rockland, refueled, and headed back to Machias — a three-hour tour. Enroute, once they hit 2,500 feet altitude, the cadets took the wheel.
“It was amazing,” Autumn Fox, 15, of Dennysville said after landing. “It was one of the best experiences of my life. At first I was really nervous but then it was just amazing!”
Participation in the Civil Air Patrol goes well beyond flying, Machias Commander Michael St. Louis said as he watched his son, Brandon, lift off with the other cadets.
Brandon St. Louis has been in the CAP for four years — all of his formative teen years, his dad said. St. Louis, who is also a pilot, said CAP participation has developed his son’s character.
“He has gained tremendous leadership skills,” he said, which his son proved by walking all the cadets through a pre-flight check of the aircraft, confidently explaining each step.
Captain Warren King, one of the senior volunteer pilots, said many CAP cadets also go to summer camp. “They learn everything from how to make their beds, to how to fold the flag, to how to fly a plane,” King said. “It is a much, much better environment than being on the street. This is a wholesome endeavor.”
“This really has nothing to do with the military,” St. Louis said, dispelling a perception that because the cadets wear surplus military uniforms means they are military-based. “The uniforms are donated,” he said. “We couldn’t afford them otherwise.”
Yet, St. Louis admitted, his son has learned to fly and read aircraft instruments because his dream is to be a pilot for the U.S. Marines. “He is applying to Annapolis and wants to fly Black Hawks,” St. Louis said.
The Machias chapter of the CAP is invaluable, St. Louis said. “The Maine Forestry Division now contracts with the Civil Air Patrol for flights. We recently assisted at the Brunswick Air Show and we have also participated in two to three rescues in this area.”
CAP conducts 90 percent of all search and rescue missions, as well as aerial reconnaissance for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. CAP pilots are also called on to transport time-sensitive medical materials.
Mary Story, the statewide communications’ director for CAP, said the high school program teaches “a lot of moral leadership, particularly in the search and rescue area.” She said that across the U.S., CAP has saved 112 lives so far this year.
Fox said she joined CAP so she could get into a better college. “And then,” she added, “you get to have all these experiences. I mean, I flew a plane today.”
Fox said she hopes to participate in four years of Reserve Officers’ Training Corps in college, join the U.S. Army and then become an aviation officer.
In Maine, there are 9 squadrons, 122 cadets — ages 12 to 20 — 262 senior members, 55 pilots and seven planes. CAP is a nonprofit corporation founded in 1941, one week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, because citizens were concerned about the defense of the U.S. coastline.
During WWII, the CAP pilots flew 500,000 hours, sank two enemy submarines and rescued hundreds of crash survivors. Today, CAP is charged with aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.