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Taking Flight

Area Teen Accepted Into Prestigious Cadet Wings Program

1st Lt. Gavin Swanson with his parents, Tina and Jeff Swanson. To his right is the Lt. Col. Ruth Rowland Nichols CAP Memorial Award. Swanson was a part of the team that won first place at a statewide competition featuring CAP teams from across New York state in 2019, continuing their success from 2018. Photo by Daryl Simons Jr.

“We are congratulating you on your acceptance into the Cadet Wings,” Col. Michael Cook, National Civil Air Patrol staff, said to 1st Lt. Gavin Swanson.

“I flew a plane by myself before I ever drove a car,” said Swanson, a Jamestown resident.

On June 10, Swanson of Squadron 402 found out that he was one of the few who were selected to join Cadet Wings. Swanson became the first cadet from Western New York to earn this honor.

Cadet Wings is a program that provides funded training to selected Civil Air Patrol cadets to earn their private pilot certificate in the airplane, glider or lighter-than-air (balloon) categories. It is funded by the United States Air Force in an effort to match the increasing need for air pilots in the country.

“Within the next five to 10 hours, I’ll do my first solo cross country, over 60 nautical miles,” Swanson said. “I’ll do this with my flight instructor initially. Then I will do my solo cross country, and then continually build time after that, doing more intricate things.”

They encourage the cadets to space out that 60 hours of training over the six months. His flight training is being done at Majestic Aviation at the Chautauqua County-Jamestown Airport, with Randy Nalbone.

As being part of the Youth Aviation Initiative, Cadet Wings selects its candidates on merit. With around 130,000 potential applicants existing within the Civil Air Patrol nationwide, only 62 candidates are selected.

“It’s extremely competitive,” Swanson said. “Though not every one of the 130,000 actually apply, a lot of them do from many different wings, country-wide.”

The funding is not insignificant, as Swanson stated that the cost for this level of training privately would be around $10,000, which includes up to 60 hours of in-flight training. The formal flight training allows the CAP cadet to pursue the PPC, which is recognized by the flight industry as being the first step towards pursuing a flying career.

To be one of the selected candidates, they are judged by a number of criteria; that is broken down by objective and subjective assessments. For the objective criterion, points are awarded for various special awards, cadet activities, flight ratings, longevity, emergency services, milestone achievements, cadet competitions and participation in Cadet Advisory Council.

Also factored in are various academic achievements, mainly in mathematics, years studying a foreign language and overall GPA.

The acceptance into the program almost didn’t happen for Swanson. Though he has a very impressive resume of achievements, the one thing that he didn’t meet was the age requirement. So, his initial application back on March 26 was declined.

“You have to be 17 to get your pilot’s license. But you can train and solo an airplane at 16. So, I got denied because I wasn’t 17,” Swanson said.

But Swanson and his mother Tina remained persistent, asking what it is he could do to still be admitted into the program, emphasizing that his goal was to receive his pilot’s license before he turned 17.

“We called them and plead our case to them,” Swanson added.

The interviewer told Swanson if he was that eager to earn his pilot’s license, he should complete the list of prerequisites within a month. At that point, his enrollment could be re-evaluated.

So he did, with the careful assistance of his mother.

These included a private pilot’s ground school course that involved plenty of video and reading materials that detailed the more technical aspects of flight.

And then he had to complete the FAA written test, a 60-question exam. Swanson said that this was “the hardest test that I have ever took in my life.”

Lastly, he had to solo a plane after training with his flight instructor.

Swanson credits the immense support and tutelage that he has received from Nalbone.

“He was really amazing with his willingness to navigate through all of these hurdles with us,” Tina Swanson said of Nalbone’s help.

Swanson also credited Mitchell Johnson who was first aviation mentor and former CAP Cadet, now senior member, and also his mom for all the work she had done behind the scenes.

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