When Cadet 1st Lt. Mason Rowe of the Kentucky Wing’s Owensboro Composite Squadron earned his private pilot certificate through Civil Air Patrol March 24 – his 17th birthday – he became the first cadet to do so with an official mentor.
In 2019, the U.S. Air Force provided initial funding for, and continues to support CAP’s Youth Aviation Initiative Cadet Wings program, whose goal is to increase the nation’s pilot population.
More recently, a donation by the James C. Ray Foundation provides an additional funding source to open training slots for 30 Cadet Wings pilots. These training slots also include a dedicated mentor CAP calls a “navigator.”
The Ray Foundation scholarship focuses heavily on the added-value benefits of local mentorship for the CAP cadet. The student pilot and mentor relationship are how the local squadron engages with the cadet to ensure success by removing barriers that could potentially slow progress.
Cadets may qualify for up to $10,000 through the James C. Ray Flight Training Scholarships to train for their Federal Aviation Administration private pilot certificate.
As part of the arrangement, cadet student pilots who receive a Ray Foundation scholarship select a “navigator” – an adult CAP member who acts as a mentor to help the cadet navigate the challenges of flight training and stay on course.
Rowe’s navigator was 1st Lt. Mark Briner, a pilot in his squadron. “We talked a lot on the phone and in person about what was most important to be studying, and he helped talk me through some of the possible questions for my oral [exam],” Rowe said. “I have flown with him in the past; he always teaches me something every time we are in a plane.”
Certificated Flight Instructor Steve Reising also helped prepare Rowe. “He gave me material to study and worked with me during our ground classes to help prepare me for the oral exam portion of my check ride,” the cadet said. “He also worked around my schedule, with me being in school. He made sure he always had a slot for me in the afternoons and on the weekends.”
Overall, Rowe said, “the toughest part was studying for the written exam. I got so tired of taking practice tests and kind of got burnt out for a little bit but kept at it. I had so much encouragement from my mentors and my family that I wouldn’t give up.”
In addition to the navigator and certified flight instructor, the local squadron play a key role in supporting student pilots participating in Cadet Wings. The squadrons make sure the student pilot stay on track, provide guidance and encouragement, and celebrate with them following completion of the program.
“Receiving this scholarship took a lot of stress off me and my family,” Rowe said. “Knowing you can schedule a lesson and not stress about how you are going to pay for it makes things much easier. This is putting me one step closer to my career path as well. It truly has been a self-confidence booster.”
“We are very appreciative of the [Ray funding],” said his father, Capt. Mark Rowe, who joined CAP at the same time as his son. “It was a huge help.”
Rowe has also received his tailwheel endorsement in the Cessna 140 shown above.
His career goal is to fly corporate jets or cargo aircraft for a large company. Until then, he plans to work on an instrument rating and commercial pilot certificate on his way to becoming a certificated flight instructor to earn money teaching others to fly while padding flight hours to his own logbook.