Soaring success paves way for future recruitment

A sailplane towed by a T-41 Mescalero soars above Colorado Springs in the direction of Pikes Peak. The U.S. Air Force Academy's soaring program gives cadets their first hands-on experience with flying aircraft. The 94th Flying Training Squadron conducts the training, flying more than 30,000 sorties per year. (U.S. Air Force photo/David Armer)

A sailplane towed by a T-41 Mescalero soars above Colorado Springs in the direction of Pikes Peak. The U.S. Air Force Academy's soaring program gives cadets their first hands-on experience with flying aircraft. The 94th Flying Training Squadron conducts the training, flying more than 30,000 sorties per year. (U.S. Air Force photo/David Armer)

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Sean D. Tucker stepped out of his custom-built Oracle Challenger II biplane and rushed to catch his flight from Tampa back to his Power Aerobatics School in California. Recently honored as one of only 25 'Living Legends of Flight', he had just wrapped up the last of six mind-boggling aerobatic routines which included maneuvers in excess of 10 positive and six negative G's during Lakeland, Florida's 2009 Sun 'n Fun Fly-In. 

Before he left however, he walked over to the show's youngest performer, shook his hand, and wished him luck on his routine. "You're an awesome pilot -- now don't screw it up!" he said. 

Cadet 1st Class Andy Davis then strapped into his TG-10C and became the first Air Force Academy cadet in history to perform an aerobatic demonstration on the national fly-in stage. His six-minute routine tested the limits of the Academy's aerobatic sailplane and the Sunday afternoon crowd stood in awe of the paces an aircraft without an engine could be put through. 

The road to Sun 'n Fun was just that -- after C-130 Hercules airlift support fell through, Cadet in charge Nic Zimmerman and his crew loaded the Air Force Academy Sailplane Demonstration Team's glider into a trailer and two officers from the 94th FTS and 70th FTS drove it across the country. More than 1,800 miles and four days later, the aircraft was a static display at America's second largest fly-in, and the 94th's team was busy answering questions and handing out recruiting materials to the estimated 138,000 in attendance at Lakeland's Linder Regional Airport. Cadets 1st Class Justin Ledvina and Shannon Reichert made a presentation at Lakeland's George Jenkins High School, meeting with cadet candidates who were in awe of the detail which they gleaned from the cadet's description of life at the Academy. "It was amazing to see how impressed the high school students were with daily life here," said Reichert. 

Majs. Steve D'Amico and Jim Stumbo provided officer oversight for the trip and were glad the team was able to make the whole trip happen. 

"Right from the beginning of the planning phase, we faced several challenges," Major Stumbo said. "Funding, airlift, SCA, recruiting resources ... all areas seemed to require a huge team effort on the part of several Academy agencies and in the end, the teamwork paid off." 

When asked why the 94th would go through such strides to pull an event like this off, it all boiled down to the mission. 

"We all exist here to develop leaders of character. That starts with recruiting that outstanding sophomore in high school who is awed by the exploits of an Academy cadet, finishes with the graduation of a cadet possessing the tools required to execute a deployment like this as cadet-in-charge and all the little steps in between that ensure that the job is pulled off with integrity and excellence," Major D'Arnico said.

The 94th will attend between eight and 10 more air shows this summer, performing before audiences in excess of 1.2 million aviation enthusiasts, providing a number of different cadets with leadership opportunities aimed at preparing them to be lieutenants in today's unpredictable Air Force. 

Along the way, they'll also be providing an incredible recruiting tool to ensure the Academy continues to attract and train America's best and brightest for service to their country.