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Maj. Sherri Tombarge
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Club Soars, with New Funds and New Vision

LEXINGTON, Va., March 6, 2014 – Cadets are taking to the skies through the Air Force ROTC Flight Incentive Program and VMI’s Soaring Club. Together, these flight programs are helping cadets prepare for flying careers.

This year, the Institute is providing $1,600 to cover dues and glider time for cadets in the Soaring Club, and the Flight Incentive Program is being supported by a $500 dollar grant, which has been matched by Col. Dean “Spanky” Lee, Air Force ROTC commanding officer.

 

The Air Force Flight Incentive Program’s ultimate goal is to provide flying time for as many Air Force ROTC cadets as possible.

“We produce pilots,” said Lee. “Not all of our cadets go into flight training, but some do, and it’s very, very competitive. Anything that we can do to get them airborne will prepare and motivate our cadets, and that makes them more competitive on a national level.”

Lee takes the cadets though all the basics of flying, including the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, basic maneuvers in the air, and landing. Each flight lasts between 45 minutes and one hour.

“It’s a very basic intro to flight. It’s mostly about motivating them and having fun,” said Lee.

Lee’s four-seat 1969 Piper PA-28 Cherokee is well suited to pilot training because of its small size and simplicity. The plane costs about $60 per hour to operate, and that, coupled with the time required to travel to and from the Waynesboro airport, limits the flying time available for cadets.

“What’s important is we’re getting these cadets flying,” said Lee. “More than one cadet has gotten a flight and then decided to become a pilot as a result.”

 
Footage shows an instructor teaching stick and rudder skills in a glider.

“It’s a great opportunity,” said Tiffany Haines ’15, who is cadet in charge of the Soaring Club. “This program, along with the Soaring Club, is a great opportunity not only to learn how to fly but get the experience necessary to judge if you want a career like this.”

The flights also motivate cadets to excel within the Air Force ROTC detachment.

“Anyone that wins a quarterly or yearly award is eligible for a flight. Plus, for anyone who is awarded a pilot allocation in the Air Force, I’ll try to get them airborne,” said Lee. “I’m trying to spread it out to as many cadets as possible. Last year I flew about 15 cadets.”

While the Air Force Flight Incentive Program is open only to members of the Air Force ROTC, the Soaring Club is open to all cadets. Lee and Col. Joe Blandino, professor of mechanical engineering, co-advise the club, which includes cadets planning to commission in all branches of the armed forces in addition to those interested in civilian flying careers.

Flying a glider lays a firm foundation for those interested in piloting powered aircraft.

“A glider is a perfect platform for developing very good stick and rudder skills,” said Blandino. “The cadets are getting a good feel for how airplanes behave and they’re learning basic flight mechanics, so I think there’s a lot of value in learning in gliders before you do powered flight.”

VMI’s support of the Soaring Club is making free flights possible for each cadet.

“We convinced VMI to pay for flights for cadets interested in flying,” said Lee. VMI has provided enough money to pay for dues and a glider flight for each cadet in the club. Members of the club can also fly at a discounted rate if they want more time in the air.

Regardless of the careers cadets will ultimately choose, both programs are offering memorable experiences.

“I’ve wanted to fly a plane since I was a little kid, and this program has given me the opportunity to do that,” said Ryan Wilson ’15. “The experience is phenomenal; I’ve loved every second I’ve been able to be in the air.”

– John Robertson IV

 -VMI-