The coolest kids don’t drive, they fly

The coolest kids don’t drive, they fly - A man in a uniform standing in front of a building - Soldier

Civil Air Patrol Cadets train for a future as pilots

Captain Ed and Mercy Hiller’s son, Caleb, wanted to get his pilot’s license before his driver’s license. So five years ago, to help their son, these retired military officers along with Major John Di Renzo formed the Key West Civil Air Patrol (CAP) program. Kids as young as 12 learn to fly in a paramilitary training environment. Caleb, the first cadet to graduate in Key West, did receive his pilot’s certificate on his 17th birthday, and now attends the US Naval Academy with hopes of becoming a Blue Angel pilot.

CAP has a variety of missions. It teaches aerospace principals, and provides leadership training, physical fitness training and moral leadership training to kids ages 12 to 21. The Civil Air Patrol also teaches the general public, grooming them to become “Seniors” (more on that later). And nationwide, CAP provides emergency services for search and rescue, disaster relief, humanitarian services, and support for the US Air force and counter drug operations. (CAP helped with photographic recon of the Florida oil spill and the aftermath of 911 in New York.)

These ambitious, young cadets study rigorously each Saturday working on flight simulators. They also get to go up in real planes on O missions (orientation flights) on either a Cessna 172 and 182 and glider flights.  They also develop navigation and mapping skills while training as a military auxiliary.

Steven Powell, 14, started at 12 years old and already knows, “I want to be in the Air Force and have my own plane.”

As the kids move up in the ranks, the testing gets harder. Aaron Portal, 14, is already a Cadet Master Sergeant with one steadfast goal: “I want to fly an F18.” Cadets Harrison Simmons, 13, and James Bryars, 14, also want to fly in the Air Force and say CAP will help get them there.

The Commander of the squadron is Major John Di Renzo, who is a pilot and certified air instructor.

“We teach what a private pilot would get in school, our standards are very high,” he said. “We have the luxury of putting them in a plane to become better and safer pilots.”

Although there are a small group of cadets working toward a specific goal, all the students at Key West High School can use the flight simulators. The Civil Air Patrol has also helped develop courses in aviation, drones and airplane mechanics for students.

The Key West Civil Air Patrol currently has 14 cadets, but needs more Seniors interested in flying and keeping the program going.

“It’s a valuable asset to our community,” said proud mother, Mercy Hiller, and she would know.

For more information about the Key West Civil Air Patrol, call 305-360-1775.

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Hays Blinckmann is an oil painter, author of the novel “In The Salt,” lover of all things German including husband, children and Bundesliga. She spends her free time developing a font for sarcasm, testing foreign wines and failing miserably at home cooking.