Saturday, February 11, 2012

FALLBROOK: Civil Air Patrol cadets get their chances to fly

Civil Air Patrol volunteer Jim Redmon fills out his pre-flight paperwork before taking off with two cadets at the Fallbrook Community Airpark on February 4.

By TOM PFINGSTEN, North County Times 

FALLBROOK ---- By any measure, last Saturday was a good day to be a Civil Air Patrol cadet in Fallbrook.

As a brisk northerly wind swept over the Fallbrook Community Airpark, eight boys arrived to await their turns at the controls of a Cessna 182 beside Fallbrook resident and veteran Marine Corps pilot Jim Redmon.

Two squadrons of the Civil Air Patrol were represented that day: The 714 Chapter in Escondido ---- a cadet squadron of 31 aspiring pilots ---- and chapter 87, a squadron of local airmen who mentor the region's cadets and fly civil service missions, from search and rescue to humanitarian deliveries after disasters such as Hurricane Katrina.

At 9:07 a.m., Redmon lifted off of the small runway with 13-year-old Ben Fernandez in the co-pilot's seat.

It was Ben's third flight as a cadet, and Redmon's task was to fly the two of them to a safe altitude, then take the lad into a series of steep turns and midair stalls, letting Fernandez fly for several minutes at a time.

When they touched down again just after 10 o'clock, the boy could not suppress a smile as he climbed out under the Cessna's right wing.

"I've been wanting to fly ever since I was 5 years old ---- since I first got on a plane. All I would do was stare out the window," Ben recalled.

Among the lessons he learned under Redmon's watchful eye last Saturday was how to make use of rudder pedals, as well as how to keep his wits about him during a stall: "If you hear that stall warning, most people just want to get out of it and dive down, but that'll get you a ticket to go see St. Peter," he said.

"Most people are, like, 'Oh my God, we're gonna die,'" Redmon confirmed with a chuckle, repeating the lesson he wants his cadets to learn: "No you're not. It's not nearly as grim as you think."

Redmon was amiable and still had the swagger of a fighter pilot, even after years of retirement. He posed for a photo with Fernandez before loading the next two cadets into the cabin and running them through the pre-flight checklist.

The Civil Air Patrol is the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, a nonprofit organization commissioned by Congress in December 1941 to encourage the nation's youths to pursue aviation ---- then and now an occupation critical to the country's defense.

According to the organization's website, up to 8 percent of the Air Force Academy's graduates are former Civil Air Patrol cadets. Enlistees who finish the second phase of training in the Civil Air Patrol are automatically promoted two pay grades, to E-3, when they enter the Air Force.

Back in the staging area last Saturday, squadron leader Terence Walker took a break from two hours of parsing air traffic control and aviation acronyms to explain what he hopes his own two children are getting out of the Civil Air Patrol.

"Really, what we're trying to do is get these kids to actually see a career over the horizon," said Walker, an Escondido resident. "Not necessarily training them to go into the military ---- it's more about teaching maturity, discipline and respect. And selflessness, giving back. We get them out of the video game mindset and out into the real world."

A veteran of the Army and Air Force, Walker was dressed in fatigues like most of the cadets. In the Cessna, Redmon wore a military-green flight jumpsuit.

"These are real-world, nationally critical skill sets that 12- to 17-year-olds are getting involved with," Walker continued. "You don't see that anywhere else."

At 9:30 a.m., while his son was somewhere in the North County sky, Escondido resident Rene Fernandez explained that aviation was a generational pursuit, handed down from his father.

"We used to fly from Lake Havasu City to San Diego to visit my grandma, and then fly back, in these small Cessnas. That was my experience with flying," he recalled.

Regarding the Civil Air Patrol, Fernandez pointed out that not many 13-year-olds get to go to school on Monday and say they flew an airplane over the weekend: "There really isn't another program I know of that you can just go out and fly airplanes," he said. "This is just pure enjoyment, you know?"

Taking a break beside the Fallbrook runway, Redmon chuckled when asked what it's like to fly around all day with teenagers.

"It varies, from those that are very quiet and reluctant to do anything, to this gentleman," he said, motioning toward Ben, "who was very eager to do things. Basically, the intent is to try to get them, as I say, infected with the flying virus."

Ben was undeniably infected.

Still beaming, the lad explained how the bird's eye view of North County was reminiscent of those early commercial flights as a 5-year-old, when he would gaze out the window and look forward to his turn in the cockpit.

"At 5,000 feet, it's a pretty good view," he said.

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