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That “was amazing” exclaimed Timmins Air Cadet John Bonnah after returning from his first flying experience. “I even got to fly the plane for a little bit!” Behind Bonnah, the next air cadet was already being escorted across the ramp, preparing for their own inaugural flight in the crisp, blue skies of northern Ontario.
This winter, Regional Cadet Support Unit (Central) Air Operations pilots and staff (all members of the Canadian Armed Forces) provided hands-on, experiential learning opportunities to Royal Canadian Air Cadets living throughout northern Ontario. Made possible through the close partnership between the Department of National Defence and the Air Cadet League of Canada, Operation (Op) Aurora delivered familiarization flights, hangar tours, and opportunities to speak with pilots to 11 Air Cadet squadrons at three airports – Dryden, Thunder Bay and Timmins – bringing a taste of aviation to over 200 young and enthusiastic Air Cadets across northern Ontario.
Familiarization flying, aviation maintenance training, glider pilot scholarship programs, and private pilot scholarship programs, are all prime examples of the unique experiences available within Canada’s Air Cadet Program. In fact, many of the pilots and staff on Op Aurora and across Ontario’s Air Cadet Flying Sites are graduates of these programs who have chosen to give back and inspire in youth the thrill of flight.
That was certainly the case with pilot Capt Jason Regimbal, who obtained his pilot license more than 20 years ago as a Timmins Air Cadet. Regimbal received his tow plane pilot qualification in 2013 and flies regularly with Cadet Flying Training Centres and other units across the province. Earlier this month, he returned to his hometown to fly cadets during Op Aurora, eager to help the cadets locate their homes, schools and other local landmarks from the air and to answer questions about the dynamics of flight, how he became a pilot, and aviation in general.
The aircrew and ground crew operated a pair of Bellanca Scout (8GCBC) aircraft, owned by the Air Cadet League of Canada. Rugged and versatile, the two bright yellow, high-wing aircraft are equipped with dual controls to facilitate familiarization flying and belong to a much larger fleet used to support Air Cadet gliding operations in the spring, summer and fall.
Op Aurora was not simply about amazing flying and big smiles from those who participated, staff also reinforced the most important lesson in aviation to our young prospective aviators: flight safety always comes first. The ability to adapt to changing weather patterns and to repair and maintain aircraft while deployed from home base requires sound judgement, solid experience, and a robust plan. A dedicated ground support vehicle with experienced air and ground crew ensured the mission was safe, allowing the plan to remain flexible in order to deliver the demands of the program. One such instance occurred in Dryden, when poor weather and an unplanned aircraft maintenance activity forced the postponement of familiarization flying; instead cadets enjoyed tours of a local hangar where they were able to explore several different aircraft. Plans are already underway to return to Dryden later this year.
The Cadet Program is open to all Canadian youth between their twelfth and nineteenth birthdays and excels with strong community support and involvement. Adult staff, which includes reserve members of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF), are from the local community and provide mentorship and training for local cadets year-round. The Cadet Program, at its core, develops confident, self-sufficient leaders who are engaged in their communities, promotes physical fitness and healthy living, and hopes to foster an interest in and an awareness of the activities of the CAF.
The Air Cadet program is always looking for motivated and passionate people to join and to support the cadets. Any youth or adults interested in becoming involved can find more information on the find us page of the Canadian Cadet Organizations website. There are northern Ontario units located in Atikokan, Englehart, Fort Frances, Geraldton, Iroquois Falls, Kenora, Kirkland, Marathon, Minnitaki, Sioux Lookout, Timmins, and Thunder Bay. Look skyward, and in the words of Leonardo da Vinci, once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.