It was a beautiful day to be in the air, and the local squadron of air cadets took full advantage of it.
Gathered into one of the maintenance buildings at the Fort Frances Municipal Airports on a frigid January day, members of the 908 Rainy Lake Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron prepared for a day of learning and experience last Saturday thanks to the help of a former officer. The cadets, under the guidance of Lieutenant Marcus Himanen, took to the skies throughout the day to get a better understanding of the craft of flying, from pre-flight preparation to handling the controls of an aircraft, to using visual markers and onboard instruments to aid in navigation, takeoffs and landings. All of this experience is traditionally part and parcel with being a cadet, but as commanding officer Capt. Dawn Gray explained, it’s been quite a while since they’ve been able to get their cadets in the air.
“This is part of their aviation training, familiar flying,” she explained.
“We’re really excited to be able to do this. They haven’t done it since 2020. The last one was out in Dryden, and then before that was 2016, here. The hope is we do every year, but with some of the changes in the program, it’s been hard to get the kids up in the air.”
There’s plenty of paperwork and organizational tasks that need to go into something like this, but once that is done by the pilot, in this case Lt. Himanen, the sky is almost literally the limit. Because the Cessna 172, the plane that was being used that day, is a four seat plane, only three cadets could go up at a time, with the cadet in front getting some time behind the control stick. All three cadets, however, got the benefit of the experience and knowledge from Lt. Himanen as they spent half an hour in the skies above Fort Frances and the surrounding area before returning to the airport. Lt. Himanen explained the learning comes from almost every single part of the process, even before cadets step foot into the plane.
“There’s educational value to it,” Lt. Himanen said of the experience.
“More than likely, one of the cadets is going to be able to spend time flying the airplane, so they’ll be able to steer, they’ll taxi on the ground and fly it once we’re in the air. There will be learning about the traffic pattern, the traffic procedures in the area. They’ve been learning about the aerodrome, its markings, the lighting systems, that sort of thing. Basically the whole thing is a scripted lesson.”
Getting to the point where you can become a licensed pilot takes plenty of air time, Gray said, and COVID-19 introduced plenty of disruptions into the normalcy the cadets usually experience when it comes to some of their regular programming. Now that the restrictions surrounding the pandemic have mostly eased off, these types of in-person activities can resume, and with any luck the cadets will continue to see some form of regular air time going forward, in addition to their other activities and programs. Gray noted that several of the cadets from the 908n squadron have completed their aviation certification in the past.
The cost of flights can be extreme, and Gray said the squadron is thankful for and able to do significant things like this because of donations and sponsorships from the community and organizational partners like the Legion. However, the experiences like getting to fly or go to different parts of the country for competitions or other learning opportunities is what makes the cadets program such a benefit for those who sign up to the program.
“They learn so much,” Gray said.
“It’s not just aviation. They learn leadership, they learn instructional techniques, they sometimes just learn to get out of their shell. That to me is a big thing. And we’re always open to having new kids come on down.”
Lt. Himanen echoed Gray’s comments, noting that he believes the air cadets program is one of the country’s best-kept secrets.
“This is a fantastic boot camp program,” he said.
“There are so many opportunities the kids have that you wouldn’t get through the normal education system. IT’s not necessarily even the flying program itself, but the opportunities you get with that. We have a national program and you can go anywhere, there’s so many things to do. It’s such a great deal for the kids, I highly recommend it for everyone.”