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Cadet instructor pilots teach Academy sophomores to soar in Arizona

Cadet 2nd Class Khornwitpong Soonthonnitikul, an international student from Thailand at the U.S. Air Force Academy, flies upside down in a TG-16A glider during aerobatics training over Coolidge, Arizona. (Courtesy photo)

Cadet 2nd Class Khornwitpong Soonthonnitikul, an international student from Thailand at the U.S. Air Force Academy, flies upside down in a TG-16A glider during aerobatics training over Coolidge, Arizona. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. (AFNS) -- Blizzard-like conditions may have struck the U.S. Air Force Academy earlier this month, but in Arizona the weather was perfect for cadet instructor pilots who taught Academy sophomores the art of soaring.

During their two-week trip to Coolidge, Arizona, 15 cadets and four officers from the 94th Flying Training Squadron’s Academy Soaring Program taught the cadets how to perform aerobatics.

“We went to Arizona to get six to seven straight days of flying,” said Cadet 1st Class Joseph Gould, a soaring instructor pilot. “The sophomores were nervous at first because they had never been inverted (in a glider), but they really got into it. They have a lot to learn, but by the end of the week they were very good at aerobatics.”

The 94th FTS flies more than 17,000 sorties a year, making it the most active soaring operation in the U.S. Each year, 80 cadets attend a semester-long instructor pilot upgrade course.

“The soaring program broadened my horizons,” said Cadet 3rd Class Merrick Isley. “I didn’t get to experience airmanship my freshman year and this program exposed me to the best the Academy has. This is a positive environment and helps everyone grow. This training in Arizona has been great because we don’t have school and I get to focus on flying.”

Capt. Brian Ross, the 94th FTS group training officer, is a 2008 Academy grad. He returned to his alma mater in 2014 to learn to pilot gliders.

“This program introduces cadets to aviation, which is what many of them will do in their Air Force careers,” he said. “It provides leadership opportunities because cadets are in charge of the trip. Making reservations and working with airfields gives them experience they will use in the operational Air Force when they go on a temporary duty assignment.”

Four TG-16A gliders were trailered from the Academy to Arizona for the event.

“It’s been a great experience and gives us a whole new perspective,” Gould said. “It’s a great way to get away from homework and be with people who want to fly. It’s a chance to challenge yourself and a lot of fun.”

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