Civil Air Patrol
  • Aircrew returing to base

Maryland Wing solo school marks its 28th anniversary of training cadet pilots

August 11, 2018 — HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Over the skies of Hagerstown, Md., six Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing cadets flew in Cessna 172 aircraft with the goal of soloing for the first time. This event was the culmination of their training and study. The cadets, from all around Maryland, participated in the Maryland Wing flight academy, a unique program celebrating its 28th anniversary this year.

Lt. Col. Robert Ayres founded the school in 1991 at the request of Col. Eugene Przybylowicz, then Maryland Wing commander. Since that first year, cadets from all over the wing apply for the school and then participate in a rigorous and competitive selection process where they are evaluated on several areas, including their grade point average, interview, resume and an essay explaining why they want to attend the school and what they will do with the training. Applicants are ranked numerically and the top six are chosen to attend the school. All cadets must be at least 16 years of age and have earned their Mitchell Award.

“This year marked the 28th anniversary of the Maryland Wing cadet solo flight scholarship program; renamed to the Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Scholarship Program in honor of the founder who passed suddenly in 2012.  Over 180 youth have joined the ranks of pilots across the world as a direct result of this program. To dream of flight is one thing but to actually achieve it is an experience that one who has not flown will never be able to understand,” commented Lt. Col. John Henderson, activity director for the school.

Led by Henderson, the selection process began in December with a call for applications. While cadets put together their application packages, Henderson put together a team of well-qualified instructors to assist with selections and to teach at the school.  Flight instructors for the week included Lt. Col. Pete Loewenheim, Maryland Wing’s standards and evaluation officer, Maj. Marty Sacks, Maryland Wing’s pilot development officer, and Capt. Curtis Berry, Hagerstown Composite Squadron member.

Cadets participate in two weekends of ground school held at the Hagerstown Composite Squadron headquarters prior to the flight portion of the academy which is held at the Hagerstown Regional Airport. The goal of the program is for the cadets to not only solo in the aircraft, but to pass the written FAA private pilot exam, which is administered to the cadets at the end of the 10-day flight academy.

“Ground school was exhausting,” states Cadet 2nd Lt. Nick Korotunow. “All day you sit and absorb new knowledge that hopefully you remember the following day. The time in between ground school weekends is spent studying the material you learned before. It is a continuous cycle of learning and relearning so that no knowledge goes unforgotten. What the instructors do at solo school and how they teach definitely works and it is shown by the tremendous passing rate on the FAA written exam. I felt more than prepared the day of the test.”

Three instructors work with the six cadets in an intense 10 days of flying and continued ground school instruction. Three cadets are in the air at a time while those left on the ground study for the FAA exam. Evenings are classroom training and practice FAA exams.

“As a flight instructor, it is absolutely exhilarating to start the week with a cadet in the left seat of an airplane for the first time and finish the week with them as they confidently accomplish their check lists, preflight, start and taxi around the airport after speaking on the radio with ATC and then take off and land,” says Sacks. “I was impressed with the effort and commitment from all of the cadets. The pace of the school is fast and it’s easy to fall behind, yet the group not only worked hard individually but worked well together and helped one another to succeed.”

Those participating in the program are housed in the Hagerstown Composite Squadron headquarters at the Hagerstown Regional Airport. Simple meals are served for breakfast and lunch, while members of the Hagerstown squadron serve home-cooked dinners to the staff and cadets each evening.

The cadets that were selected to attend this year’s school are:

  • Cadet Capt. Ronak Chawla – Frederick Composite Squadron
  • Cadet 2nd Riley Gladhill – Hagerstown Composite Squadron
  • Cadet 2nd Nicholas Korotunow – Glenn L. Martin Composite Squadron
  • Cadet 1st Benjamin Mullen – Harford Composite Squadron
  • Cadet Capt. Jordan Regalado – Col. Mary S. Feik Composite Squadron
  • Cadet Lt. Col. Vivek Uppoor – Bethesda Chevy-Chase Composite Squadron

Cadets worked together in teams of two, each team paired with an instructor that would mentor and train them throughout the week. Once the instructor felt the cadet was ready, he would take his place on a hill at the airport, watching his student taxi down the runway and take off into the skies above the airport. After three take offs and three landings, the student would pick up their proud instructor and taxi them back to where the rest of the school were waiting for the congratulatory handshakes and photos. Each cadet, upon successfully completing their first solo, was then congratulated by their classmates with the traditional water dousing. The instructor would then complete the solo tradition with the cutting the shirt tails of their student. These shirts would later be inscribed by the student’s instructor and displayed during the graduation ceremony.

“Accelerated flight training like the Robert Ayres Flight Academy is a great way to expose young people to the dream of flying. They can get a very realistic view of what it takes to fly and whether a life of aviation might be a fit for them. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to be part of the program and watch the lights come on in the eyes of these cadets,” reflects Sacks.

Cadet Capt. Jordan Regalado reminisces, “This school has been the most stressful and nerve wracking experience of my life. Yet, this school left me with memories, training, and experiences that are unforgettable.”

Former graduates of the Lt. Col. Robert Ayres Flight Academy continue on with the skills and lessons first started in solo school.  Many have gone on to become U.S. Air Force pilots, commercial pilots, or continue to serve as Civil Air Patrol pilots teaching new cadets how to fly.  In 2017, three solo school graduates were part of a group of five cadets nationwide to receive scholarships to attend Civil Air Patrol’s first ever Advanced National Flight Academy, a five-week school where they continued their flight training and successfully attained their private pilots certificate through a program at Delaware State University.

Nearly 1,500 CAP members serve in Maryland. Last year wing members flew 13 search and rescue missions. The wing was credited with four finds. Maryland Wing flew 32 missions for the State of Maryland. Members flew 2,245 hours in all mission categories. Volunteers contributed services estimated at $4.6 million. For more information, contact the Maryland Wing at or follow the wing on Facebook at

Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force, which consists of regular Air Force, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve, along with Air Force retired military and civilian employees. CAP, in its Total Force role, operates a fleet of 550 aircraft and performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 78 lives annually. Civil Air Patrol’s 56,000 members nationwide also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. Its members additionally play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 24,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet program. Performing missions for America for the past 75 years, CAP received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2014 in honor of the heroic efforts of its World War II veterans. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Visit for more information.


Photos L to R (all photos taken by Lt. Col. John Henderson, CAP):

Cadet 2nd Lt. Nicholas Korotunow and Lt. Col. Pete Loewenheim head out to the flight line for a day of flight training.

Lt. Col. Pete Loewenheim watches as his student pilot conducts his first solo flight in a CAP aircraft at Hagerstown Regional Airport in Hagerstown, Md.

Lt. Col. Pete Loewenheim instructs the six cadet student pilots during the ground school portion of the flight academy.

Cadets Jordan Regalado, Riley Gladhill, and Vivek Uppoor on their way to preflight the aircraft prior to a day of flying.

One CAP aircraft with its student pilot awaits the landing of a second CAP aircraft prior to take off.

Cadets from the 2018 Robert Ayres Memorial Flight Scholarship Program gather for a light moment by one of the CAP aircraft used for the academy.


Lt. Col. John Henderson, CAP
Maryland Wing Vice Commander – Operations
Director, Robert Ayres Flight Scholarship Program


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