Learning to soar — without an engine

Alice Mannette
The Hutchinson News
Civil Air Patrol cadet Kevin Shen is pulled by a tow plane to begin his solo flight Tuesday morning at the CAP Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy, held at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport. Shen successfully completed the solo flight.
Civl Air Patrol Cadet Ethan Quinn begins his glider flight after being towed into the air at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport Tuesday morning during the CAP Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy.

There is a certain type of plane that flies without a motor. It's called a glider. And when you master it, it is said, you can master just about any plane.  

For the first time, the Civil Air Patrol held its two-week Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy in Kansas. Cadets came from Alabama, California, Florida, Iowa and Minnesota to the Sunflower Gliderport just west of Yoder to learn this aviation technique. 

"Of the 18 cadets, about half will go into the military," said Lt. Col. Douglas Dutton, the activity director for the Kansas Civil Air Patrol glider academy and the operations director of the Kansas Civil Air Patrol.

Dutton said learning to operate a glider makes a person into a better pilot. Fourteen other staff helped with the academy. Like Dutton, two came down from Salina. Many of the others came from across the state, Colorado, and Missouri. 

Dutton, who served as a weatherperson in the U.S. Air Force, is a licensed pilot and glider pilot. According to him, the lack of tall trees, large industrial centers, wind turbines and large amounts of commercial air traffic make western Reno County an ideal location for the academy.

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Learning to glide

Civl Air Patrol Cadets Ethan Quinn, left, and Destiny Roberts pour water over Kevin Shen after he completed a successfull solo flight Tuesday morning at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport.

Cadet Kevin Shen, 20, of New Jersey, who made his first solo flight on Tuesday, said the Civil Air Patrol gives students a wonderful opportunity. Shen, who is in ROTC at Pennsylvania State University, is majoring in aerospace engineering, and unlike others at the academy who want to fly for the U.S. Air Force or Navy, he wants to be a part of the new U.S. Space Force

"I've always loved flying," said Shen, who celebrated his birthday on the airfield.

For him, flying comes naturally. 

"You feel a bit more of the controls in a glider," Shen said. "You either make it or you don't."

The cadets were housed in the dorms at Hutchinson Community College. They visited the Cosmosphere and a local restaurant or two, but most of the time, they were on the runway or in a glider, doing what they loved.

"When you get up there it's just silent," said Cadet Destiny Roberts, 17, of Derby. "You can just look at the horizon."

Roberts plans to enlist in the U.S. Air Force on her 18th birthday.

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Cadet Malachi Feil, from Wichita, waits for a tow plane with his certified instructor Carl Hallum in an L23 Super Blanik Glider on the runway at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport Tuesday morning, as part of the Civil Air Patrol's Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy.

Malachi Feil, 16, of Wichita, who hopes to attend a military academy, has a family history with gliders. 

"My grandpa and great-grandpa flew gliders at Sunflower," Feil said. "I'm carrying on the tradition."

Cadet Edna Oswald talks about her plans to join the Navy during the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport Tuesday morning.

Like Feil, Cadet Edna Oswald, 19, of Missouri, plans to enlist in the U.S. military this fall. Many members of her family were members of the U.S. military. 

"When I'm in a glider, it's the feeling of being an eagle," she said. "It's quiet. You're in full control."

Kansas Civil Air Patrol helps Kansans

Cadet Thomas Botkin gives a thumbs up that he is ready to go during the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport Tuesday.

The Kansas CAP helped deliver much-needed ventilators, medications and COVID-19 tests last year. They also transported blood. 

"We went to almost every county in Kansas," Dutton said. 

With pilots in Pittsburg, Hays, Dodge City, Salina and Topeka, the KCAP were able to fly to hard-to-reach locations. 

"I flew to Liberal with a ventilator," said Dutton, who also works as a college professor. "They met me with an ambulance. I got the ventilator out in time to save those two people."

Last year, Dutton touched down in Emporia, Meade and Syracuse as well. He and the other 400 Kansas Civil Air Patrol members also donate their time to help out with search and rescue missions throughout the state.  

Shen said the Civil Air Patrol program is the best hidden secret. Most cadets agreed.

"It's an outstanding program," Feil said. "You get out of the program what you put into it."

Cadet Austin Haubenstricker, left, goes through a release check with Cadet Everett Crane and his certified flight instructor Steve Rasmussen, right, during the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport.
Cadet Jared Smith, stands near the wing as Cadet Truver James waits in the glider with instructor Roland Dewing for a tow plane on the runway at the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport.
Gliders filled with cadets and their certified instructor line up along the runway as they participate in the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy Tuesday in Yoder.
Cadet Austin Haubenstricker, left, demonstrates the glider flight simulator during the Civil Air Patrol Northcentral Region Glider Flight Academy at the Yoder Aerodrome Gliderport.