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Public Affairs : West Point Aviation Club Part II

Ground School, Flying Team offers insight into aviation
Story and photo by Mike Strasser
Assistant Editor
(Editor’s Note: Last week’s article focused on the Flying Team and its members. This week, the Pointer View looks into the Ground School and the competitive origins of the Flying Team.)
WEST POINT, N.Y. (March 28, 2013) — The reasons cadets attend Ground School vary. Some are considering aviation as one of their branch choices. Others are just eager to set in motion the process of earning their private pilot’s license. In either case, membership in the West Point Aviation Club will get them where they need to be.
It costs roughly $10,000 for a private pilot’s license, and most of the required training is up to the individual to pursue. The Ground School offers an opportunity for cadets with no aviation experience to learn a significant amount of knowledge with minimal cost. The academic syllabus prepares cadets to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s Private Pilot Written Test.
“That gets them started and if it piques their interest and have the resources available they can get the rest of the training on their own,” Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Whittle, Ground School instructor and Aviation Club officer-in-charge, said. “If they follow through and pass the written FAA test, then they can join the Flying Team as a non-flying member.”
What the Ground School can’t supply is the flight training required to pass the FAA practical test for a private pilot’s license. Whittle said the costs for aircraft, fuel and training would be too great and he wouldn’t be surprised if half the Corps signed up for it.
“Even if a cadet doesn’t branch aviation and, say, chooses infantry, the things you will learn about aviation make you a more knowledgeable consumer,” Lt. Col. Tanya Markow, Ground School instructor, said. “So when you call for air support you will have the understanding behind what you need and what you can ask for.”
Markow recalled a trainee in flight school who quit after discovering a fear of flying behind the controls of an aircraft.
“That’s probably not the best time to figure something like that out. So for some, joining an Aviation Club might help confirm whether that could become a factor,” Markow said. “Or maybe it’s not even the flying. It could be all the planning that a person finds unappealing. Better to find out now and make an intelligent and informed decision about the branch.”
Though cadets are exposed to branch choices through summer training, the Cadet Troop Leader Training and other opportunities, there is value in joining clubs with military-related focus.
“It’s a good way to validate your interests. The direction we are taking with the club really allows cadets to do that,” Whittle said. Following Ground School, cadets can join the Flying Team as non-flying members.
This would allow cadets to train and compete in navigation events, participate in the message drop and pre-flight evaluations.
“After they finished Ground School and passed the FAA written test, they can apply this knowledge at a higher level,” Whittle said. “Even if they can’t wiggle the stick and fly the airplane, they’ll gain greater insight into what this means because they can see it in action. This can help them become a better aviator later on.”
Flying Team History
No one associated with the Aviation Club today knows for certain when it first originated, though Markow remembers joining as a plebe in 1991.
“It has evolved a lot since then,” the Ground School instructor said. “Originally, the club was a way to give cadets an opportunity to continue flight instruction on their own. When I was a cadet here—I don’t remember if there was a Ground School—we would have trip sections to the airport in Poughkeepsie and that was basically it. You’d pay for your own instruction, just as cadets would have to do today to earn their pilot license. But there was no Flying Team and the concept of competitive flying was not an option then.”
She returned as an instructor in 2004-07, and served as the club’s OIC for a couple years. “The club had not flown for many years and my big push was getting them in the air again,” Markow said. “We offered the free Ground School, which I taught, and that was an exciting, busy time.”
When she returned to the academy a few years later, she was excited to see the progress made within the club.

Teamwork. You all did well individually, but because we trained together, helped each other and made sure everybody understood what they needed to know, that’s the reason you won,   —Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Whittle
“The creation of the Flying Team gives cadets a goal beyond just getting a pilot license,” Markow said. “Now they can compete at this and become more proficient. The nice thing about the competitive events is that it makes you a safer pilot.”
Whittle agrees.
“These events really stretch the skills—your aviation skills, your judgment skills,” he said. “As an aviator it has benefits beyond any competitive award.”
For the senior members, Class of 2013 Cadets Nevada Shelton and Bryan Wilson consider their sophomore year as the rebirth of the Flying Team.
“It was sort of re-founded, or resurrected that year and we were the first members,” Shelton said. “It went dormant for a few years before Maj. (Zachary) Mundell got it going and had the idea of bringing back a competitive Flying Team.”
Mundell graduated from West Point in 1999 as an armor officer but had enlisted in 1993 as a Black Hawk helicopter repairer and crew chief. Shelton, Wilson and a few others received an email from Mundell, who taught in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Leadership, prior to Club Night in 2010 about visiting the Aviation Club booth. Any cadets who had their pilot license could join the new Flying Team.
Just hours after another academic day ends at the U.S. Military Academy, a group of cadets return to the classroom for an additional class. It’s called the Ground School, and members of the West Point Aviation Club attend it for any number of reasons. Some are pursuing their private pilot license, others simply want to learn more about aviation as a possible career field.
Read more: Aviation Club Part I

“I want to say we had around 10 cadets sign up that year,” Wilson said. “We had a couple meetings where we talked about the competition in general and the funding issues. When it came down to figuring out what we needed to do and how we were to pay for it, there ended up being only the three of us.”

“Well, we were the three who liked flying enough to pay to go compete, and that’s sort of how we got started,” Shelton said.

In that first year, the cadets paid their own way into the 2010 regional competition and had only one official day of flight training prior to the event.

“It kind of all came together quickly,” Shelton said. “We were sort of learning on the go, and Maj. Mundell was learning as were we all along.”

Shelton said that Mundell managed to get a recently-graduated Air Force Academy lieutenant to provide some guidance on the road trip to regionals.

“Basically on the car ride, the lieutenant brought us up to speed the best he could,” Shelton said. “The first event was that night, and for the rest of the weekend we were pulling late nights studying, getting up early to prepare in between events.”

“It was like you competed in one event and then prep for the next one, doing that again and again,” Wilson said. “It was sort of like preparing for finals without going to class the entire semester, and then the day before the exam you have someone coach you on what you missed.”

Mundell, the acting OIC at the time, said they did well, despite having only one day to practice. It also prepared them for the next go-around.

“In the fall of 2011, we were able to field a slightly larger team and thanks to the generosity of an aircraft owner in Long Island, we were able to practice our flying skills throughout the year,” Mundell, who is currently assigned to the 7-17 Cavalry Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade in Fort Campbell, Ky., said.

That year, Joe and Pete Scherer from the Class of 2015 were among the new team members, and Wilson said the training was more concentrated on being competitive. They placed fourth in the regional competition.

“We definitely improved that year and did a lot better in competition,” Wilson said. “I think we fell short only three points from third,” Shelton said. “It was something miniscule like that.”

Flying Team wins The West Point cadets won the 2013 Northeast Collegiate Regional Flying Team Competition early in March. But from the way the awards ceremony was conducted, it wasn’t a sure thing.

“They started with the awards from the ground events, which we did OK, but not that well in,” Class of 2014 Cadet Frank Arnold, the team’s cadet-in-charge said. “When they were announcing those I thought, ‘I guess we’re going to have to make a ‘good effort’ speech.”

Instead, the team returned to West Point with the championship trophy and seven others.

“I was a little surprised,” Arnold said. “During the award presentations I looked around the room, and comparatively, we had a lot of trophies. All of us scored pretty highly in every event.”

Arnold said other teams were equally surprised.

For a team that had competed only twice previously, the win was unexpected.

“We weren’t exactly a joke team before, but that first year we didn’t know what we were walking into,” Arnold said. “We went from competing after only one practice to a full-training schedule this year. Apparently, it made a difference.”

During the club meeting March 18, Whittle reminded the cadets the secret to their success.

“Teamwork. You all did well individually, but because we trained together, helped each other and made sure everybody understood what they needed to know, that’s the reason you won,” Whittle said.

Specifically, the team dominated in the power-off landing events due to their development of techniques.

“Just the fact that we had a specific technique to go out and apply, and then could deviate from, made a big difference,” Whittle said. “That’s what being a professional pilot is all about.”

Col. Glenn Goldman, the director of the Department of Military Instruction which sponsors the Aviation Club, appeared at the club meeting to congratulate the team and present them each with a certificate of achievement.

“It’s pretty amazing what you accomplished, especially given how busy you all are, and the amount of effort that went into it,” Goldman said. “We are all very proud of you.”

The 2012-13 West Point Flying Team is Class of 2013 Cadet Nevada Shelton, Class of 2014 Cadet Frank Arnold, Class of 2015 Cadets Dan Hawbaker, Pete and Joe Scherer, Class of 2013 Cadet Bryan Wilson and Class of 2016 Cadet Will Watson. On the left and right are the team’s officers in charge, Lt. Col. Tanya Markow and Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Whittle. In front of the them are the eight trophies they earned while competing in the 2013 Northeast Collegiate Regional Flying Team Competition March 9-11. On the far right, Col. Glenn Goldman, the director of the Department of Military Instruction, presented the cadets with certificates of achievement.