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A Passion to Fly

March 15, 2020

One student’s path to a private pilot’s license

Cadet Norber in a hangar with a CAP planeOn a sunny Saturday afternoon at the end of February, college student Roi Norber earned a private pilot's license… something only a small percentage of other humans have ever completed.

"I grew up with aviation, and becoming a pilot was never in question." The son of a private pilot and nephew of a corporate pilot, Roi spent his childhood in and around airplanes. "It feels good to be a part of the community I've loved for so long.”

Congratulations are certainly in order for such an accomplishment. However, Roi's achievement took an even rarer path which meant there was almost no cost to Roi or his family.

Roi did his pilot training while he was still in high school through a program funded by the United States Air Force and operated by the Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the all-volunteer United States Air Force Auxiliary, which was founded in 1941. 

In 2015, at the age of 14, Roi joined CAP's Cadet program. He joined the Palwaukee Composite Squadron based at Chicago Executive Airport, where he moved up through the ranks. First, he learned to be a good cadet. Then he learned the leadership skills needed to be chosen as the first Cadet Commander of the newly formed Col. Charles Compton Composite Squadron in Evanston, Illinois. His participation in countless activities in and around his squadrons also included time as the Cadet Commander of the Illinois Wing Spring Encampment at Great Lakes Naval Station. But the highlight might have been his attending the Johnson Flight Academy, where cadets receive instruction leading towards a private pilot's certificate. Like several of the attendees that year, Cadet Norber (then 17) gained enough skills to solo, or fly by himself, in a CAP-owned Cessna 172.

Cadet Wings

What Roi didn't know is that based on his performance at the flight academy, Civil Air Patrol leaders chose him to be a part of a new Air Force funded program called Cadet Wings. According to CAP, Cadet Wings is a merit-based program that provides funded training "to selected Civil Air Patrol cadets to earn their Private  Pilot Certificate." Through Cadet Wings, the U.S. Air Force was going to pay for Cadet Norber's flight training to fulfill its mission of developing tomorrow's aerospace leaders" and fighting the pilot shortage.

After he was nominated, Cadet Norber continued his learning by flying with three volunteer CAP instructors in two different CAP aircraft based around Chicago. All of this training came together at the end of February. That day, he flew with Designated Pilot Examiner Alan W. Zielinski, who agreed Cadet Norber was skilled enough to earn his Private Pilot License. 

Cadet Major Roi Norber had become the 45th CAP cadet to pass his private pilot check ride as part of the Cadet Wings program.

Designated Pilot Examiner Alan W. Zielinski hands Cadet Norber his Private Pilot License in front of a CAP planeCadet Wings applicants often reach out to Cadet Major Norber for advice, and he shares two bits of wisdom. First, remember that CAP isn't looking for people to get their pilot's license and run away from CAP. The goal is to have participants come back and prepare the next generation. The other advice he gives: "don't worry about rank." They should think about their experience and what they have done in their CAP career rather than focus on attaining the highest rank. "Experience counts. So an active and experienced Cadet Master Sergeant has a better chance of getting into Cadet Wings than a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel who just took all the tests."

Best Prepared Students

According to one of his flight instructors, Maj. Rod Rakic, CAP, "[Roi] is strong enough to be a lawyer or doctor, and the aviation ecosystem is better off because we got him in the cockpit. Aviation isn't the only industry competing for this talent." Rakic, a former CAP cadet himself, believes that CAP cadets make the best, most prepared flight students. "They arrive with the motivation and discipline that you can't assume from the general population. Their cadet training gives them a great foundation for attention to detail, completing the tasks assigned, and working in a team." 

Maj. Rod Rakic, CAP CFI instructing Cadet Maj. Norber in a CAP 172According to Rakic, the process starts as cadets join CAP. They begin to learn to be a good cadet, learn to follow, and then learn to lead. Along the way, cadets have access to take multiple flights in a Cadet Orientation program which is also funded by the U. S. Air Force, which gives them a view towards being a pilot. For many cadets, they attend flight encampment, and many end up soloing an aircraft. By the time they get to the Cadet Wings program, they are very well prepared for the challenges ahead of them. Compare this to the process outside of CAP, where the selection for student status is based on having the money to start and requires no criteria of proven, strong preparedness.

Besides subsidizing the costs, the CAP Cadet Wings program offers participants everything they need to train for the private pilot rating. While some Cadet Wings participants fly with non-CAP instructors and planes, Maj. Rakic, CAP recommends taking advantage of the CAP system. 

"The Cadet Wings program gives cadets access to flight instructors that they couldn't otherwise afford."

- Maj. Rod Rakic CAP CFI

In Cadet Norber's case, he learned from current and former military, airline, and FAA pilots… instructors with decades of experience. None of these instructors provide instruction at a flight school, so CAP is the only way to get access to them.

Outside CAP, most instructors are often young and merely building time to go to the airlines. But CAP instructors are volunteers who are flying for passion and motivated by giving back. Cadet Norber recommends that future Cadet Wings participants fly in CAP planes rather than use traditional flight schools. "Go with CAP. It takes more patience and takes a bit longer. But the level of training you get at CAP is unparalleled." He said that CAP instructors were committed to teaching him how to be a great pilot, not just pass the tests. "If you have the time and patience to fly with cap, it prepares you for an aviation career."

Looking Forward…

Now back at the University of Wisconsin - Madison, Roi is working on his undergraduate degree and hoping to get into law school.  Cadet Major Norber continues to take advantage of the Cadet Wings program, which provides 1.8 hours of monthly flight time to maintain proficiency. He is already planning additional training to fly the more complex Cessna 182 equipped with more advanced and modern Garmin G1000 avionics. 

His instructors have no doubt he will succeed in this and anything aviation related he takes on.

Learn about CAP

Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force. In this role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually. CAP’s 60,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. In addition, CAP plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to over 25,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs. Visit or for more information. 


For More Information:

Media looking for more information about this story, the Cadet Wings program, or about Civil Air Patrol should contact:

Capt. H. Michael Miley, CAP CFII
Public Affairs Officer - Chicago Senior Squadron
Assistant Public Affairs Officer - Illinois Wing

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