Air Force Academy’s Soaring Team takes to the sky in Littlefield

Updated: May. 23, 2019 at 10:51 PM CDT
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LITTLEFIELD, Texas (KCBD) - It is the largest program of its kind, and right now, it is here on the South Plains.

Cadets with the United States Air Force Academy’s Soaring Team are practicing flying gliders in Littlefield this week.

They are honing their cross-country skills by flying sorties in preparation for regional and national competitions.

So how do you fly a plane without an engine?

“It attaches to a 200-foot rope, and then our tow planes will put it up to altitude somewhere between 1,500 to 2,000 feet above ground level. Then, they pull the rope. Now they are just flying by air moving over the wings,” said United States Air Force Major Robert Johnston.

These planes can stay airborne for up to six hours and fly 200 miles away from their home airport.

“They’ll get into updrafts and hot air currents that can actually bring that aircraft up, which is really pretty amazing if you think about it because this aircraft weighs 850 pounds or so,” said Major Johnston.

So why are these Colorado Springs cadets training in Littlefield?

“West Texas is nice and flat, unlike Colorado Springs where you have to think about the mountains that you might be landing on. We actually train these guys on how to go land in a field if they have to because they run out of energy. Plus, it puts us nice and close to the Silent Wings Museum and that’s really a treat for these guys,” Major Johnston said.

Cate Cavanaugh is one of a handful of pilots who received their G-Wings at a pinning ceremony at the Silent Wings Museum, bringing Cavanaugh one step closer to her goal and her grandfather.

“My grandfather is kind of my hero. He served as a navigator in a B-17 in WWII in the Army Air Corps, and on his second mission, he was shot down over the North Sea and spent a couple of days on a life raft,” Cavanaugh said. “Then he washed ashore in the German occupied Netherlands and was a prisoner of war for 13 months.”

Cavanaugh said her grandfather made back to the states where he became an Admission Liaison Officer for the United States Air Force Academy.

When Cavanaugh heard this story in seventh grade, she knew exactly what she wanted to do.

“Him being my hero, it was an easy conclusion to draw that the Air Force Academy was going to be the place for me. I think the Glider Program just helps me get closer to him and who he was. I’m working on my own skills and abilities and my aviation abilities kind of in memory of him, but also striving for myself as well,” Cavanaugh said.

Here is the roster for the team who participated in the training in Littlefield:


  • C1C (Cadet 1st Class) Ben Jakeman
  • C1C Mason Dean
  • C2C (Cadet 2nd Class) Raley Blankley
  • C2C Danny Carpenter
  • C2C Spence
  • Chanthavane
  • C2C Mark Simpson
  • C3C (Cadet 3rd Class) Enrique Castellanos
  • C3C Austin Cavallin
  • C3C Kate Cavanaugh
  • C3C Trace Dowell
  • C3C Thomas O’Brien
  • C3C Grace Whiston

The Cadets with the rank of C3C are the one who earned their G-wings at the pinning ceremony at the Silent Wings Museum.


  • Captain Kari Wise - Soaring Pilot
  • Major Bowie Frost - Soaring Pilot
  • Major Billy Jacks - Soaring Pilot
  • Major Robert Johnston - Soaring Pilot
  • Mr. Hansi Buss - Soaring Pilot
  • Lt Col Colleen Cameron - Soaring Pilot
  • Mr. Chris Greg - Aircraft Maintenance
  • Mr. Ryan Coulson - Aircraft Maintenance
  • Mr. Tim Miller - Tow Pilot
  • Mr. Steve Addison - Tow Pilot

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