On Monday night I gave a talk to a local Air Cadet Squadron about becoming a pilot in Canada. Over all I think it went pretty well. While there were some poor cadets who had no interest whatsoever in becoming a pilot (and hence probably didn't find the talk that interesting) it was refreshing to see the enthusiasm that a number of the cadets had about flying. The Squadron's Warrant Officer (highest ranking cadet) had recently been accepted for a Power Course (getting his Private Pilot's Licence) and you could tell how excited he was. Mixed in with the excitement, I was very pleased to see that most of the cadets were very level headed and realistic about the realities of a career as a pilot. You can tell that they are going to be successful with whatever they decide to do with their lives.
It's been called one of Canada's best kept secrets and I have to agree. The Royal Canadian Air Cadets is a really interesting organization that I think all young teenagers should look into if they have even the slightest interest in aviation. When I was growing up, I unfortunately didn't have any friends in Air Cadets and didn't really hear about them until I was in my mid to late teens by which time it would have been very difficult to earn a flying scholarship.
The Schweizer 2-33 Glider used for the Royal Canadian Air Cadets gliding program
From a flying perspective, the biggest draw to the Air Cadets is the opportunity to be selected for a Power and/or Glider Course. The Cadets who are accepted for these courses are able to earn their Glider or Private Pilot (Aeroplane) Licence paid for by the cadets organization. This is a great deal.
Not only do cadets get the opportunity to earn their licences, there are also many other courses and skills camps that they can go to in the summer and chances for international exchanges - all generally free of cost.
Best of all is the networking opportunities that will be there for you later in your life. When I lived in Thompson, I lived in a house with 4 other pilots, all of whom had been Air Cadets. They had known a lot of the same people and it definitely helped them in the job hunt.
Air Cadets is not all fun and games though. The Air Cadets are a branch of the Department of National Defence. While there isn't really any pressure for cadets to join the Armed Forces when they get older, military ideals for discipline are taught. Uniforms must be ironed and boots have to be shined. There are drills and parade where cadets have to march in step and follow commands. While I feel that this type of discpline is helpful to learn, it is not for everybody.
Although cadets are open to young adults from the ages fo 12 to 18 years old, it may be difficult to be selected to get your glider or Private Licence if you join later. I would highly recommend that anybody between the ages of 12 and 16 who is thinking about being a pilot, look into the Royal Canadian Air Cadets.