Three Kamloops teens from the Black Maria Air Cadet squadron will be taking to the air with newly earned Transport Canada pilot licences.
Ethan Bugden, 18, Ryan Wallace, 17, and Joel Kerfoot, 16, spent a good part of their summers doing pilot training on Vancouver Island.
Bugden and Wallace trained for seven weeks at the Victoria Flying Club and earned private pilot licences, which means they can fly single engine aircraft.
Kerfoot trained for six weeks at Canadian Forces Base Comox and earned a glider pilot licence. Gliders are small airplanes without motors.
All three come from the Kamloops Squadron 204 Black Maria, and received their licences Aug. 18 at a graduation ceremony at Canadian Forces Base Comox on Vancouver Island. All will continue with the cadets in the coming year.
Other young women and men from air cadet squadrons across B.C. also graduated that day, with 33 earning pilot licences and another 38 attaining glider pilot licences.
Capt. Rod Totten, head of the Kamloops squadron, said each summer two to three Kamloops cadets graduate from the program.
"They're quite gung-ho to get up and fly," he said of this year's three graduates.
Maureen Fagan, squadron vice-chair, said it is a "huge accomplishment just to be selected for the program."
To be eligible, cadets "must have good grades and be in good standing with the squadron, have completed ground school training, and participate in formal interview boards," which are exams put on by the Air Cadet League of Canada and the Department of Transportation.
Totten said the highest-scoring cadets then get picked to go to either private pilot or gliding school.
The experience was unforgettable, Kerfoot said, adding that he feels very fortunate to have been chosen for the opportunity.
He placed third overall in a test of skill, maturity, airmanship and self-discipline, and was awarded the Bruce Warren Memorial Trophy and provided a cash bursary to continue his flying. The award commemorates Flight Lieut. Bruce Warren who died in the first crash of a CF-100 fighter jet.
One in five private pilots in Canada is an ex-air cadet and 67 per cent of commercial and airline pilots began as air cadets, according to recent figures from Transport Canada and the Airline Pilots Association.
Each summer, cadets have an opportunity to participate in a variety of camps and top cadets may get the chance to earn a pilot licence free of charge.
The 204 Black Maria Squadron meets every Monday night between 6:30 and 9 p.m. at the Boys and Girls Club on McArthur Island. The program is free and open to males and females between the ages of 12 and 18. The first meeting of the year is Monday, Sept. 10, and new participants are welcome.