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Civil Air Patrol honors aerospace cadetCivil Air Patrol honors aerospace cadet

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.

Austin Dillow poses for a photo with fellow Civil Air Patrol Cadets. Photo courtesy of Austin Dillow.

He recalled his fixed-wing solo experience as a hectic day that turned out fine despite some anxiety in the traffic pattern.

“It was a very nice day but it was extremely busy and I had to wait about 20 minutes to get in the pattern. We were right next to a naval air station and I didn’t want to get into any trouble the first time I was up in the air by myself. Then someone cut me off so I had to leave the pattern, and I said to myself, ‘Austin, just calm down.’ So then I came back and entered a 45 for the downwind” and landed. “I was ecstatic. My mom and dad were there, my friends and family, and they all met me with a cake.”

The Civil Air Patrol's Austin Dillow is also a certified emergency medical technician. Photo courtesy of Austin Dillow.

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.”

Austin Dillow solos a sailplane at age 14. “Once I was able to go up in one of those gliders by myself, I realized that’s what I wanted to be doing,” said Dillow of his 2014 flight. Photo courtesy of Austin Dillow.

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.

David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.
Topics: Aviation Industry, Student

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