U.S. Air Force and Civil Air Patrol Help Tackle the Pilot Shortage

Cadet Wings program helps pilots earn their private certificate.

pilot instructor and students in front of plane
Lt. Col. Ken Curell (center) of the Civil Air Patrol’s Ohio Wing is flanked by two Pilot Prep Program students – Air Force 1st Lts. Sherry Meadows (L) from Aviano AB, Italy and Makenna Elliott from Offutt AFB, Nebraska.Civil Air Patrol

The Air Force and its auxiliary, the Civil Air Patrol, are testing a new approach to help tackle the service's pilot shortage. The Pilot Prep Program (PPP) will prepare 52 airmen from 38 installations across the globe for the Air Force's fiscal 2020 undergraduate flight training selection board this fall. Pentagon Aircrew Crisis Task Force boss Brig. Gen. Christopher Short created the initiative as part of his effort to dig the service out of an approximately 2,000-pilot shortfall.

As part of the program, PPP airmen complete online training before heading to Columbus Municipal Airport, Indiana, to take part in CAP’s National Emergency Services Academy (NESA).

The PPP is being conducted alongside NESA’s Mission Aircrew School, one of three schools combining task-based training with practical application. In addition to its Air Force students, more than 500 CAP members will participate in NESA this year from every state. To prepare participants for the selection test, they’ll log six to eight hours in the cockpit, with simulator-based training and ground instruction, as well as mentorship from officers and CAP pilots. This experience helps people in the program explore the career field before committing to more than 10 years as an Air Force pilot.

Another nationally focused CAP program may also help fill the national pilot gap, which in turn affects the Air Force's shortage. Through "Cadet Wings," participants are certified as private airplane, glider, or balloon pilots by training one-on-one with a local, certified CAP instructor, attending a 30-day course in Texas, or attending a commuter or residential flight school. Receiving a private certification is a stepping-stone toward further professional flight training.