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Retired Maryland National Guard Brig. Gen. Vernon Sevier, center, observes as Freestate ChalleNGe cadets Tiffany Hudson, 18, front seat, and Remy Carson, 16, rear, perform pre-flight safety checks in Sevier's high-wing Cessna during the final day of training in the Silver Wings Program at Martin State Airport in April.

A group of cadets from the Freestate ChalleNGe Academy earned their flight wings earlier this year through an aviation program supported by several volunteer pilots.

The Silver Wings Program teaches youths the principles and fundamentals of aviation and aerodynamics and follows that up with a 30-minute flight in a single-engine airplane, according to Maryland National Guard Col. Richard J. Knauer Jr., ChalleNGe special projects officer.

Knauer led a group of 30 cadets to Martin State Airport in April where after three weekends of classroom instruction they got to take to the air in privately-owned aircraft with volunteer pilots.
Knauer said their training included learning about airplanes and the principles of flight, charting maps, touring a medivac facility and training on flight simulators.

"The academy selects participants based on their interest, aptitude and demeanor," Knauer said. "Two to four cadets will go up with a pilot in single engine high and low-wing Cessnas."

The pilots included Chuck Rishell, Neil Link, Jim Cooke, and retired MDNG Brig. Gen. Vernon Servier.
Rishell said he takes the youths about 20 miles out over the Bay and the Eastern Shore and at one point during the flight the youth in the co-pilot seat is given control of the aircraft.

"They did great," Rishell said. "They were all excited and eager to learn."

Link, a former flight simulator instructor in the Army and former airline pilot, said he has been volunteering with Silver Wings for 10 years.

"I let them know I dropped out of high school too," Link said. "I went back and got my GED, and eventually I was training officers I used to work for. If I can do it, they can too."

Cooke, who has volunteered since 1996, said he appreciates the youth's enthusiasm.

"I always let them get the feel of the plane," he said. "We hope they pursue aviation as a career, and we're willing to do anything we can to interest them in aviation."

Servier said that of the 33 ChalleNGe programs in the United States and Puerto Rico, Maryland is the only one with a Silver Wings program.

"Thanks to the generosity of my fellow pilots, we're able to expose these kids to aviation," he said. "We want them to know there are so many opportunities, from logistics to flight attendant, and we're proud to be able to give them the opportunity to get a general look at the aviation industry and to experience flight."

Also in attendance was Clevin Weekes, a pilot/engineer and member of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots. Weekes said the organization regularly supports youth aviation programs and that he drove up from Virginia to talk with the youths.

"We like to share our knowledge about opportunities in aviation," Weekes said. "We want them to know that while they're young, now is the time to get that education and convert their disadvantages to advantages."

"They seem very enthusiastic," he added after speaking with the cadets. "I think having the practical experience has motivated them, and they appreciate the opportunity they've been given."

Several cadets said they enjoyed the experience.

Joshua Tinker, a 17-year-old from Lanham, Md., said he "just wanted the experience."

"It felt pretty good to be in control," Tinker said, adding that he plans to go to college and study Criminal Justice.

Stefan Przewlocki, 16, of Severna Park, said he was interested in air traffic control.

"I've always been interested in airplanes. My dad was a pilot," he said. "I enjoyed the view, and the landing went smoother than I thought it would."

"It was exciting," added Chad Botha, 18, of Montgomery County. "I've been on big planes before but with one of these you have control. It felt great."

Silver Wings Program
The Freestate ChalleNGe Academy Silver Wings program was instituted in April 1996 as a unique and innovative hands-on and classroom aviation program in which the principles and fundamentals of aviation and aerodynamics are taught on four consecutive weekends.

Practical exercises, quizzes and flight simulators are major components of the program.
Each cadet participates in an assisted 30 minute flight in a single engine airplane at the end of each program. At the conclusion of the flight, each cadet is awarded the coveted Silver Wing badge that is proudly worn on the cadet uniform for the remainder of the class cycle.

To date, more than 680 cadets have successfully completed the ChalleNGe Silver Wing program.

Page last updated Thu July 30th, 2009 at 14:31