Sitting in the rear cockpit of a gleaming metallic Advance Trainer Aircraft Kenai Civil Air Patrol Cadet Lucas Cragg adjusted the white World War II aviator scarf wrapped around his neck, Saturday at the Kenai Municipal Airport.
Pilot, Alex Roesch, a volunteer with the Alaska Wings Commemorative Air Force, switched on the planes thundering engine, and Cragg flashed a thumbs-up at Jan Bobek.
“That guy is such a cool kid,” Bobek said. “He is unreal.”
Bobek stood and watched as the 71-year-old aircraft rolled down the runway and out of sight, until it reappeared above the Civil Air Patrol hanger, and headed toward the Kenai River.
This year five local cadets flew in the aircraft commonly known as AT6 brought to the Central Kenai Peninsula by members of the volunteer driven Commemorative Air Force for the Civil Air Patrol’s annual rides program, said Alaska Wings volunteer Jeff Dietz.
The aircraft is one of the few of its make left in the world, Dietz said. It is one of three types of planes used to train World War II fighter pilots. First was the Primary Trainer, followed by the Basic Trainer, and then after mastering the Advanced Trainer aviators would step right into the cockpit of the fighter plane they would pilot in the war.
The AT6 is one of four “war birds” housed and maintained at the Wings of Freedom- Alaska Flying Museum, Dietz said.
Cadet Bradley Walters said he jumped at the unique opportunity to fly in a maintained warplane.
“I might not get the chance to do this again,” Bradley Walters said.
Bradley Walters joined the Kenai cadets six months ago because he thought it would open up new opportunities. In the future he hopes to get his private pilots license, and do what he loves as a career, he said.
Bradley Walters father, George Walters watched his son’s first flight in the AT6.
“I would have cut off my right arm for a chance to fly one of those when I was younger,” George Walters said.
George Walters said the cadets are always looking for new recruits. Joining and participating is free, he said. Uniforms are provided.
Bobek said every activity the cadets participate in is designed to accomplish two tasks. Supporting interest in flying and giving back to their community is always incorporated into the cadet curriculum, Bobek said.
Instilling a sense of service to country and community is a focus of the organization, she said. Currently there are 15 active cadets, in the 20-year-old program.
Dietz said activities like this also teach the cadets about preserving old machinery.
“It’s our history,” Dietz said. “Once it’s gone it’s gone.”
After landing, and piling out of the tiny rear cockpit, Cragg wasted no time in getting back in and swiveling around in the rigid seat and taking control of the tail gunner.
“As soon as we reached Bridge Access Road I took control of the plane,” Cragg said. “And I flew it when we buzzed over my house.”
Cragg said he joined the cadets for the chance to fly. In the two months he has been involved he has taken two flights in different planes. He said he is sure it will only continue to bring him more opportunities in the future.
The Civil Air Patrol Cadets meet at the Civil Air Patrol hanger every Monday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Kelly Sullivan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org