The Air Cadet Gliding Program, 'Canada’s best-kept secret,' offers young Canadians the opportunity to earn their glider pilot license, and aims to instil a love of flying in its members across the country.
For more than 40 years, the Air Cadet League of Canada has been training a select group of its members to become licensed glider pilots. This summer marked the 45th annual training season in which young men and women, between the ages of 16 and 18, spent six weeks at one of five gliding centres nationwide. There they have learned to fly an engineless Schweitzer aircraft, and were awarded a Transport Canada glider pilot license upon successful completion.
During the fall and spring seasons, the Air Cadet Gliding Program commences with its familiarization schedules, in which cadets are taken up into the air, one at a time, for a sample glider flight. Fall is also the season when home air cadet squadrons commence regular activities, and when candidate hopefuls for the gliding program begin preliminary ground school.
Captain Marc Semprie, instructor at the Greater Toronto Gliding Centre and former air cadet, states that the purpose of the gliding program is to instil an interest in flying for young air cadets. But with this and other wonderful opportunities available, he laments that far too few people are aware of the league at all.
“Cadets is Canada’s best-kept secret,” he says. “I say that jokingly, but it is unfortunate. There are so many opportunities available—that goes for the Army and Sea Cadets as well, by the way. These opportunities are rare, as are the experiences and the friendships made at Cadets. I mean, how many 16-year-olds will ever be able to say they’re licensed pilots?”
Captain Ken Reid, RC Air Training Officer (Central Region), agrees that these opportunities are invaluable. According to him the gliding program is not just a fun way to spend a summer. Since going through the selection process is similar to applying for a job, it prepares individuals for a future in the workforce, whether civilian or military, and adulthood. Selection for the gliding program is based on merit and a score on overall performance, as is selection for other programs offered by the League.
He says, Graduates of the Air Cadet League can be found in all walks of life, from political figures, successful business people, all levels of command in [the Department of National Defence] and educators… Former Air cadets have accomplished many things because they have developed skills and personality traits which help to make them successful in their careers.
According to the Air Cadet League website, the most notable of these former Air Cadets include astronauts Marc Garneau and Chris Hadfield, Major Maryse Carmichael (first female Snowbirds pilot), country music artist George Canyon, and international human rights activist Afshin-Jam Nazanin (also Miss World Canada 2003 and Miss World 1st runner up).
“It’s such a tight-knit community,” adds Captain Semprie. “So many graduates of the gliding program come back to help run their regional centres, whether they’ve chosen to pursue a career with the military or work in the civilian arena. We also have a lot of airline pilots, too.” Laughing, he adds, “When they’re available, that is.”
Recently, Canadian television personality and comedian Rick Mercer visited Olds (Netook) Airfield in Alberta, and was treated to a familiarization flight. The day was filmed by CBC camera crews, and was televised October 2nd. The calibre of individuals, as described by Captain Reid, was certainly well represented. At one point Mercer humorously notes to an extremely polite cadet, “You keep calling me sir!”
But such individuals are typical of the air cadet program. Captain Reid says, As a person that experienced the program first hand and graduated, I can say that the [opportunities] that I had in the program have allowed me to be more successful in all aspects of my life and to better deal with the day to day challenges that a person [encounters]… As well, the skills that I developed through the program, like leadership, problem-solving and effective speaking, helped me be successful in my current position…
The 2012-2013 familiarization program is currently underway at regional gliding centres across Canada. There, young cadets will be shown what piloting a plane is all about; hopefully the experience will inspire them and give them something to strive for—the opportunity to earn their very own glider pilot license.