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Air Cadets Fly High

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Quick, what is the coolest thing about Chris Hadfield? Is it that he was the first Canadian to walk in space, or command the International Space Station? Is it that he recorded a music video in outer space, playing his floating guitar and singing upside down? Is it that he has 1.08 million Twitter followers, and recently spoke in the Northern Insights Speaker Series, and help open Fort McMurray’s brand-new airport?

If you ask one of the members of Fort McMurray’s 868 YMM Rotary Northstar Air Cadets, they will probably tell you the very coolest thing about Chris Hadfield is that he is a former Air Cadet. He attended the Air Cadets’ gliding scholarship camp at age 15 and went on to the powered flight scholarship camp the following year, earning his pilot’s licence. The path that led Chris Hadfield to the International Space Station was aviation, and the path that led him to aviation was his involvement in Air Cadets. This path is open to the youth of Fort McMurray, and in fact several cadets and former cadets involved with 868 Squadron’s ongoing operations have completed aviation related programs, offered free of charge through the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.

These specialty programs are offered as summer training courses. The flying programs require Air Cadets to study for and pass a Canadian Armed Forces qualifying exam and submit to a panel style interview process. Flight Sergeant Tim Chapman and Flight Sergeant Mitchell Murphy attended the gliding scholarship camp last summer and both succeeded in earning their wings. Warrant Officer 1st Class Waneita Dubrule has completed Advanced Aerospace, which involves learning how to instruct and lead aerospace activities in the Cadet program and includes opportunities to study astronomy, orbital mechanics and model rocketry. Sergeant Meara Munn-Patterson has been accepted for glider training this summer. 868 Squadron also directly enjoys the leadership and life experience of adult staff members who are former Air Cadets and have aviation experience. According to the squadron’s Commanding Officer Captain Erica Angel, 2nd Lieutenant Jeff Bush (Parade and Familiarization-Flying Officer-a pilot), Captain Sarah Richard (Administration Officer), Civilian Instructor Shane Underwood (glider and power graduate), Officer Cadet Christina Lynch, and Crystal Lewis-Wilton (volunteer) are all former air cadets.

As part of the regular training program throughout the year, Air Cadets are also given multiple opportunities to experience aviation-related activities. Last year 868 Air Cadets participated in several familiarization-flying days via McMurray Aviation at the Fort McMurray Airport, thanks in part to the skills of 2nd Lieutenant Bush. They have also toured the airport including the control tower and learned about how everything works on the ground. Phoenix Heli-Flight has also provided tours of their aircraft and facility, affording some insight into the differences between fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. Cadets also travel a few times per year to the Edmonton Gliding Center where they get to experience the very different world of non-powered flight. This is where they really learn to believe in all those theories of physics, trusting that the glider’s control surfaces will give them a slow and pleasant ride and a stable descent and landing.

Beyond aviation, the Air Cadet program also seeks to promote youth leadership, music, physical fitness and athletic achievement, and develop youth interest in the Canadian Armed Forces. There are opportunities for competition at the local/regional, provincial and national levels in sports, drill, marksmanship, and public speaking. Highly motivated, adventurous individuals can compete for international exchange programs, or participate in survival camps closer to home. The Cadet program also assists youth with scholarships for post-secondary education. 868 Squadron is especially grateful not only for the Fort McMurray Airport’s ongoing support of cadet operations and aviation activities, but also for the two YMM scholarships offered annually for cadets pursuing a post-secondary program.

The Air Cadet program in Fort McMurray is unique. It is a free portal to a world of opportunity. As Chris Hadfield himself said, “The lessons I learned there I still draw upon daily: self-discipline, teamwork, technical competence, flying, and leadership. To be able to command the International Space Station in 2012/13, I know full well that it was the Air Cadet experience that allowed me to fly so high. Per Ardua ad Astra! (through struggle to the stars- RCAF motto).”


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