To help realize their dreams of flight, Civil Air Patrol cadets can apply for scholarships and awards to ease the costs of lessons, solo flights, instrument rating, camps, and more. And sometimes that financial assistance comes at just the right moment.
That proved true for Christopher Pineda, a cadet and then senior member in the Nebraska Wing’s Omaha Composite Squadron from April 2010-July 2021.
The $2,500 Board of Governors academic scholarship he received in 2018 enabled him to enroll in the University of Nebraska Omaha’s aviation program and continue achieving flight certifications. He’s now a corporate pilot.
Pineda’s path toward his aviation career began in Civil Air Patrol, thanks to guidance from his father, Air Force veteran John Pineda, who joined the Omaha squadron in January 2003 and now holds the CAP rank of major.
“I didn’t know I wanted to fly, really didn’t know what I wanted to do, until my father … decided I needed more in my life at 13 than just playing soccer,” Pineda said.
“It all looked pretty good to me – kids my age wearing uniforms, practicing customs and courtesies, and going through drills,” he recalled.
Pineda’s introduction to the organization and his subsequent first orientation flight ignited an interest in aviation. As a cadet, he also attended encampments and participated in search and rescue exercises.
He eventually attained the Gen. Carl A. Spaatz Award – CAP’s top honor for cadets, achieved by less than one-half of 1%.
“I hadn’t set out initially to get my Spaatz,” Pineda said. His love of flying, hard work ,and volunteering for everything from pancake breakfasts to parking cars at CAP fly-ins and local air shows led to that achievement, he said.
“Anything I could do,” Pineda said, “I did.”
During his Spaatz award presentation ceremony in 2015, he let other cadets know the honor is “not about getting up here but is proof you can go this far.” He called the ceremony was his favorite CAP moment – “just a profound sense of accomplishment in reaching that point, and it was an amazing feeling to receive it in front of most of the Nebraska Wing.”
He’s quick to acknowledge he didn’t accomplish any of it alone.
“A lot of my fellow CAP members in the Nebraska Wing helped me on my journey,” Pineda said, from flight instruction to life and leadership lessons.
By then he was well on his way to pursuing a career in aviation.
He traces his discovery of his true passion in life to two moments – flying his first solo and attending his high school’s Military Academy Night.
“Although I grew up around aviation and flying in the local area, I didn’t really decide I wanted to make flying my life until I attended that information night,” Pineda said. “I was 14, and I decided right then: ‘I’m going to [the U.S. Air Force Academy], and I’m going to be a fighter pilot.’”
After he received the necessary nominations for appointment to the academy, though, circumstances prevented him from following through.
“I was devastated, but later realized I didn’t have to give up my dream of flying – I just had to take a different path than I’d originally planned.
“Stuff happens for a reason – you end up in the right place for you, although you may not realize it at that time,” Pineda said.
Without the CAP scholarship, he said, he couldn’t have continued learning to fly and would have had to fall back on other career choices like automotive or aerospace engineering – fields for which he had aptitude but that just weren’t the same as flying.
Many of the lessons he learned through CAP continue to prove valuable – especially the organization’s dedication to volunteering and giving back.
He mentored cadets in his squadron — who now include his younger brothers , Andrew, Daniel, and Gabriel, and previously his sister, Sara, as well — for more than a decade, honing his and their leadership skills.
And for the last 12 years he has volunteered at the annual Greatest Little Air Show in Tarkio, Missouri, one of the first he ever assisted with.
“It’s at this tiny airport — you park the planes in cow pastures. They have over 150 airplanes and nationally and internationally famous performers,” Pineda said. “It’s a small town with a very relaxed atmosphere, and you just hang out with the pilots and performers … the kind of experience you don’t get at many of the bigger air shows.”
Most recently he qualified to fly the Hawker 850XP, a super mid-size, eight-seat private jet. “Originally British, it was designed as a military transport that had 17 soldiers in the same space we seat eight,” Pineda said. “It’s built like a tank with analog instruments and no hydraulics; it’s all cables and pulleys. You feel like you are part of the machine when you fly it.”
This profile of former Nebraska Wing member Christopher Pineda, part of Civil Air Patrol’s recognition of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15-Oct. 15, is one of a series of articles showcasing how CAP has helped shape alumni’s lives and careers. Reconnect with CAP here.