Civil Air Patrol helps train Air Force officers aspiring to fly

Civil Air Patrol Capt. Thomas O’Connor speaks with 2nd Lt. Sedacy Walden (center rear) as Capt. Kayla Pipe pilots their CAP Cessna. Launched in 2019 as an experimental initiative, the Rated Preparatory Program, or RPP, provides accelerated instruction that identifies future pilots, navigators and other crew members to help address the Air Force’s potential pilot shortage. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO
Civil Air Patrol Capt. Thomas O’Connor speaks with 2nd Lt. Sedacy Walden (center rear) as Capt. Kayla Pipe pilots their CAP Cessna. Launched in 2019 as an experimental initiative, the Rated Preparatory Program, or RPP, provides accelerated instruction that identifies future pilots, navigators and other crew members to help address the Air Force’s potential pilot shortage. U.S. AIR FORCE PHOTO

FORT GEORGE G. MEADE, Md. – Civil Air Patrol is one of the four partners in the U.S. Air Force Total Force. Consisting of CAP as the Air Force auxiliary as well as the Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and active-duty Air Force, each partner has specific missions that often foster collaboration.

For CAP, the collaboration often consists of participation in training exercises as intercept targets straying into restricted airspace, performing search and rescue missions assigned by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, and in this case providing essential preparatory training to active-duty officers who aspire to achieve their goal of earning their Air Force wings.

“CAP is providing a crucial service for the Air Force and our nation,” said Brig. Gen. William Betts, First Air Force and Air Force Northern Command vice commander. “Some great Airmen got their start in CAP, and we are committed to maintaining that tradition.”

Capt. Alex Johnson and 1st Lt. Kristen Kummen share that aviation dream. Kummen could have spoken for both in just a few words.

“I really want to be a pilot,” she said.

Thanks to the partnership between the Air Force and CAP, Airmen have the opportunity to soar to their airborne dreams.

Launched in 2019 as an experimental initiative, the Rated Preparatory Program, or RPP, provides accelerated instruction that identifies future pilots, navigators and other crew members to help address the Air Force’s potential pilot shortage.

The program’s intent is to provide current officers with flying hours and experience to increase their Pilot Candidate Selection Model score and be more likely to qualify for Undergraduate Flight Training boards.

Nearly 100 officers have participated during the first two years of the program. Forty-one students participated in the program this year. In the first session, 20 students completed 112 sorties, totaling more than 189 hours of flight time. Twelve to 14 planes took to the skies daily, with students under the guidance of CAP flight instructors, several of them retired military pilots. The 21 students in the second session made 112 flights, totaling 169.7 hours.

Johnson, a combat systems officer who also works in tactical air control while stationed at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Kummen, stationed at Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, sing the RPP’s praises.

“For me, the RPP has been a great opportunity,” Johnson said. “Just having the ground school and the instruction that you receive from the instructors here … has helped me learn my place in the air and not having to drink so much from a fire hose.”

Johnson, like Kummen, wants to secure a pilot training slot.

Kummen has gained a great deal from supplemental flight time from the military and civilian members. But along with learning the aircraft inside-out, she has gained an understanding of the flying community, which she called “a lot of fun.”

“My motivation comes a lot from that,” she said. “I really want to be a pilot in the flying community more than anything. Everyone I’ve met loves aviation and wants to fly for their whole lives. That’s why I’m here.”

Fifty-two officers went through the program in 2019. The 2020 decrease is due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying travel restrictions.

“It’s a great opportunity for the Air Force to generate more pilots in a time of need,” said Ron Olienyk, CAP Operations deputy director. “It also gives the volunteers an opportunity to give back. A lot of our staff are retired military flyers, so they feel like this is kind of paying back for the opportunity they had.”

The program is already impacting the Total Force. The Air Force’s Air Crew Task Force has concluded that the Air Force is thousands of pilots short, Olienyk said. The RPP helps address that need, bolstering national security.

Simulated flying

The program also gives a “second-chance” opportunity to Air Force officers who may not have had the means or the opportunity for flight training before testing and submitting application packages to the pilot boards.

“They knew they wanted to be pilots, but they just didn’t have some of the air sense,” Olienyk said. “So what we’re providing here is that air sense for them to go back with that desire and actually test to meet the boards and actually get selected.”

The RPP will help ease the pilot shortage while also increasing diversity, said Maj. Sean Stumpf, Air Crew Task Force Talent Management Branch chief.

“The Air Force is committed to increasing diversity within its rated force—$18.1 million has been designated in fiscal 2021 for various Rated Diversity Initiatives,” Stumpf said. “RPP is one initiative with significant momentum in increasing diversity in aviation—in just one year, the number of under-represented groups participating in RPP has doubled (57% of fiscal 2020′s class is comprised of students from under-represented groups).”

He added, “Diversity in all forms makes our Air Force better. It’s more than race, gender and ethnicity—it’s about leveraging unique strengths, perspectives and experiences. A force made up of various backgrounds inherently brings out new and innovative ideas, which is vital to the Air Force mission. Additionally, when dealing with complex issues, diversity of our force means we’re bringing unique skills, abilities and knowledge to the table to help solve those issues.”

Every one of the 2019 students who completed the program and submitted application packages to the boards received their first or second choice to serve as pilots, system operators or large-drone pilots.

Each RPP participant must complete six to eight hours of actual flight time, finish an online ground school and pass a demanding written examination. Candidates also have access to flight simulators that enable them to sharpen their skills.

As with all Air Force pilots, successful RPP candidates must be officers and hold a college degree.

Both Kummen and Johnson say the program has sparked thoughts of a long-term military career.

Lt. Col. Eric Templeton, a CAP senior program manager, gives Kummen, Johnson and all the students in this year’s RPP high marks. Both of the program’s classes were highly motivated, but this group has more air experience, with some having their private pilot’s certificate.

“The group that’s here for these two weeks are truly here for a second chance at their passion,” Templeton said. “The flying is stellar.

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