A summer glider camp ended up pointing Civil Air Patrol cadet Austin Dillow in the right direction when the then-14-year-old soloed a sailplane over an Illinois countryside. “That really sealed the deal for me,” said the 2016 Aerospace Education Cadet of the Year. “Once I was able to go up in one of those gliders by myself, I realized that’s what I wanted to be doing.” Dillow soloed in a single-engine land airplane two years later, on his sixteenth birthday, and earned his private pilot certificate when he turned 17.
He recalled his fixed-wing solo experience as a hectic day that turned out fine despite some anxiety in the traffic pattern.
Dillow is currently a mechanical engineering student at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and maintains his affiliation with the Civil Air Patrol’s Woodstock, Maryland-based squadron. He was awarded the national aerospace education honor Sept. 19 during an Air Force Association convention in Maryland.
“Learning to fly and understanding the aerospace and engineering aspects of it helped keep me in the program,” said Dillow, who rose to the rank of cadet captain. “Without the CAP I couldn’t make this dream of becoming a pilot a reality,” he told AOPA.
In addition to leadership and character development, the program’s training included learning the basic principles of flight and how to apply those types of skills to other subjects.
In Dillow’s case, it led to participation in search-and-rescue missions that blossomed into an interest in medicine. He said the Civil Air Patrol experience “definitely led to me getting my emergency medical technician license.” After EMT training, Dillow joined a rescue squad and pursued a medical internship in college because he “wanted to get a taste of the medical field.”
After he entered college, Dillow continued to maintain ties to his Civil Air Patrol squadron by updating the local website, serving as a role model, and performing other duties. While school is in session, Dillow said he has limited his aviation to maintaining VFR currency and after he graduates he would “love to keep up with flying even if it’s not my career.”
Dillow said his professional path might include “working on aircraft or space exploration” in order to combine his passions for engineering, aviation, and medicine.