Teen Cadets Battle to be "Top Gun"

by Victor Lopez
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND--It's purpose is to honor American Military Aviation through education.

The first Aviation Cadet Academy has been going on all week at the CAF Airpower Museum, and the first class of young cadets is putting in their final hours, gearing up for graduation.

While it does give the cadets a chance to have some fun, it also gives them a little bit of a history lesson and the chance to be called "top gun."

According to assistant instructor Kevin Dawson, "We already offer 3 Junior Aviation Cadet Academies, formerly known as boot camp.  We decided it's time.  Let's expand more on those academies and build more modules where these kids are more involved, will learn more and can do more things."

That's exactly what they did.  Seven cadets, between the ages of 14 and 18, have four days behind them and one more to go.  They've learned a little about how WWII fighter pilots trained and fought and then got to put that knowledge to use.

"They also get to do some navigation, learn how to plan a flight.  They do a pre-flight inspection outside, do a pre-flight planning on a flight from Midland to San Angelo," Dawson explained.

Of course, when dealing with WWII, you have to include, what everyone has been looking forward to most, all week, "They get to learn how fighter pilots in the military learned to dog fight.  Once they catch on to that, they get on the combat flight simulators and test out their new learned knowledge against each other, to see who is the top ace."

The cadets went so far as to assign themselves call signs, just like real pilots.  Going by such names as "Mouth", "Carrot", "Panic" and even "Hypno", the origin of some, was a little more obvious than others.

Instructors say they're not trying to push anyone to joining the military, just offer them an avenue of learning more about aviation.  Mission accomplished.

14-year-old Garrett Riley, call sign "Carrot" says, "It's a great program to kind of open up an interest and it really gives you a lot of information about WWII and how planes played a major role."

And Addison Larson, call sign "Panic" who is also 14 and the only girl cadet in the academy tells us, this experience has helped nourished a future wish, "I would like to get a pilot's license.  That would be really good."

The academy closes Friday with an official ceremony where the cadets will receive honorary captain commissions.  In true military fashion, their parents will be on hand to pin them with their props and wings.

The C-A-F is already planning next year's academy and hopes to start a Saturday, family camp.