MATTOON — The traditional June sight of gliders flying over Coles County Memorial Airport has returned.

And the Civil Air Patrol cadet camps that have taken place at the airport for more than 50 years are also seeing another return. Some of those who once attended the camps to learn are now back to teach.

CAP Lt. Col. Robert Bowden, the camps' commander, attended in 2003 and said it's not uncommon for a cadet to later serve as an instructor.

"The younger generation is coming back," Bowden said. "Aviation, as a whole, is going through a change."

The camps started June 14 with about a week devoted to powered aircraft. The second began Saturday and goes through Sunday, June 30, and teaches the cadets about powered aircraft plus gliders and hot air balloons.

The gliders are noticeable throughout most days when the weather allows, in tow behind airplanes. Bowden said hot air balloon flights take place mostly around dawn and dusk.

It's the 53rd year for the camps to take place at the airport, and they are the oldest of 15 nationally. Licensed pilots and CAP members provide the training and instruction.

Bowden said the CAP, an auxiliary unit of the U.S. Air Force, still follows its original mission of flying search-and-rescue missions and performing similar operations. But it also conducts the camps to give young people a chance to get quality training in aviation operations and safety, he added.

"The goal is not to get them to solo," Bowden said. "If they happen to, that's an amazing outcome, but we want to build good, safe aviation habits."

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Rachael Gallant was a cadet at one of the camps about 15 years ago and now returns from her home in Hawaii each year to instruct cadets on hot air balloons.

"I do it for the love of balloons," Gallant said. "I want to pass on our knowledge."

Ballooning is an "adventure" and "no flight is the same," Gallant said, but it also fits with the CAP's safety mission.

"I want them to know where to go," Gallant said.

Victoria Crane, a 17-year-old cadet from Homestead, Fla., said she wanted to take part in the hot air balloon training because her mother was once part of a balloon chase team.

"It was never something I was able to do," the cadet said.

Crane said she was amazed during her first flight that it seems as if "the ground just kind of leaves" at takeoff. She said she wants to eventually get her pilot's license and to continue to take part in ballooning.

Alex Reed, an 18-year-old cadet from the Detroit area, said he joined the CAP four years ago with "zero experience." Since then, he became certified to also serve as an instructor at the camp.

Reed said he was drawn to the CAP because "I wanted to fly" and now likes instructing at the camp's ground school and helping with the camp. Reed also said he wants to become an airline pilot "as fast as possible."

Bowden said 45 cadets enrolled in the camps this year. That's a few less than average because a nationwide shortage of pilots meant fewer instructors were available, he said. He also said the local airport "bends over backwards" to host the camps, providing space, preparing grass landing areas for the gliders and more.

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Contact Dave Fopay at (217) 238-6858. Follow him on Twitter: @FopayDave



Dave Fopay is a reporter for the JG-TC who covers Coles County, the local court system, Charleston schools and more.

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