U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. –
Four T-53 Kadet aircraft line up on the taxiway leading to Runway 16. Inside each aircraft sits one cadet pilot and one instructor. They're the last group to fly for the day on Sept. 9.
The weather, however, might cut their flights short. Maj. Nanette Menath, the 557th Flying Training Squadron's operations supervisor, warns them of cells forming over the mountains to the west.
"If the weather deteriorates, I'll call you back, either for patterns or for a full stop," she explains. "Fly safe."
One potential future pilot, Cadet 1st Class Joel Cramer, is assigned to fly with Capt. Nolan Thompson.
Monday's flight marks Cramer's seventh. He'll practice touch-and-go passes, bringing the aircraft onto the runway and quickly taking off again, before heading east to one of the Academy's training airspace areas. There, Thompson will lead Cramer through steep maneuvers and stalls and will grade Cramer on how well he controls the airplane. The entire training session will last one hour and 20 minutes, weather permitting.
But first Cramer and Thompson have to get off the ground. The first two T-53s in the queue take off; the third and fourth, including Cramer's aircraft, are told to wait while another aircraft approaches the runway. That aircraft, coming in too high, aborts its landing attempt.
A few minutes later, Cramer and Thompson are airborne. The weather holds, and they land later on without incident.
Thompson, Menath and others assigned to the 557th FTS, part of Air Education and Training Command's 12th Flying Training Wing, lay the groundwork for cadets' careers: Half the Academy's graduates become Air Force pilots, and those who don't will have a background in flight and a greater strategic understanding of how the Air Force projects global reach and global power. The program provides unique leadership opportunities and character development, said Col. Kim Hawthorne, the Academy's Airmanship Program director.
"Our graduates consistently tell us that their airmanship experiences while at the Academy significantly developed their character and leadership, and prepared them to serve as Air Force leaders," Hawthorne said. "As the Air Force's Academy, it is essential that we expose and motivate all cadets to aviation operations and airmindedness -- the lens through which Airmen perceive warfare."
From her perspective as the operations director, Menath sees this first hand when dealing with the cadets in the program.
"This motivates the cadets," Menath said. "They get a lot out of it. Overall, they really enjoy this program, but more importantly they gain experience and character development through the opportunities presented by the program."