Several countries in the world have an active unit of Air Cadets, like Canada, New Zealand, Czech Republic, Great Britain and Belgium. In Belgium are the Belgian Air Cadets organised in a so called "Association without Profit goals". The Belgian Air Cadets are young adults between 15 and 20 years of age, who are very interested in aviation and often want to pursue a career with the Belgian Air Component.

Harmonic integration

After the Great War many military airplanes became property of individuals or aero clubs. In cooperation with the Belgian Air Force, back then known as the Belgian Military Aviation, they founded a National Comity for Aviation propaganda in the late 1920's. The Comities goal was to make young kids enthusiastic for aviation and flying. Specifically therefor the Belgian Air Scouts were founded. Since 1955, the Scouts, in 1956 renamed to Belgian Air Cadets, have the full support of the Belgian Air Force. According to its statutes, the support by the air force serves a purpose: to "harmonise and integrate the army with the nation". Since then the Belgian Air Cadets organise several gliding camps throughout each summer. The Belgian Air Cadets counts about 250 active Cadets and Candidate-Cadets and 200 executive members.

Selection and education

Every year around 50 youngsters from the age of 15 get the chance to be trained to be a glider pilot. The training will take three years. To enter the training one has to meet certain requirements. For example, Candidate-Cadets have to be born in country which is a member of the European Union, have to have earned the first degree of the Belgian secondary education and have to have written permission from their parents or legal guardians. They also have to pass exams in Dutch or French (depending on their mother tongue), in math and in several sports. Finally, the Air Cadet to be will be medically tested. The requirements to pass the medical tests are the same as the requirements that apply for the aviators of the Belgian Air Force.

Senior-Cadet Amber explains: "The education starts at Koksijde Air Base, with theory lessons about aerodynamics, meteorology, rules and aircraft technics and -controls. This part of the education takes two weeks. Everyone who graduates for this part is allowed to enter the practical part of the education. It was difficult, but I graduated the exams the first time." "Me too", smiles his colleague Jean. "After that actual flying lessons start. Most of the Cadets-in-Training are able to fly solo after 25 training flights." Once you're solo you will be promoted to Flight-Cadet and the Secretary of Defence will present you your wings.

The second year of the training is all about flying. The Flight-Cadets learn to fly more advanced and newer gliders and will get more and more flying experience during the several flying camps in the summer.

The third year Air Cadets are promoted to Senior-Cadet. They guide the younger Air Cadets and of course will make as many flying hours as possible. The best of the class are allowed to take part in the International Air Cadets Exchange (IACE). The Belgian Air Cadets will pay all costs of participation. Both Amber and Jean are hoping to be selected for participation.

The Cadets have to leave the Belgian Air Cadets in the year they turn 19 years old. Only the best are allowed to stay with the Belgian Air Cadets until they turn 21 years old. "After that, the Cadets hopefully will join the Belgian Air Component, because that's off course why we train them all those years", explains squadron leader Belgian Air Cadets on Weelde Air Base, Captain Jeffrey Debruyne.

Different gliders

The association has five different types of gliders in service, 27 airframes in total: Grob G.102 Astir (6), G.103 Twin Astir I (4), G.103A Twin Astir II (9), Glaser-Dirks DG-300 (4) and DG-505 (4). The G.102 and the DG-300 are one-seaters, the others two-seaters. "The difference between the types is minimal", explains Lieutenant-colonel ret. Rik Lesire. "The obvious difference between the G.103 and its improved successor the G.103A, is the gear. The G.103 Twin Astir has a retractable wheel, located under the cockpit. The G.103A Twin Astir II can't retract its wheel. The same difference applies for both one-seaters. The G.102 has a fixed landing gear while the DG-300 has a retractable one. The Glaser-Dirks are also easily recognized by their wingtips, which lacks on the Grobs." Rik continues: "One would expect it, but you can't determine the type of glider judging by its markings. The markings are the choice of their former owners, since we bought most of our gliders second hand."

By the way, the G.102 is the oldest type of glider in service with the Belgian Air Cadets. It's originated in the beginning of the early 1970's. The glider has a nickname, Jeans, because its cockpit used to be coated with blue denim fabric.

An ordinary day of summer camp

Flying is important, but it is not the only activity during a summer camp. The Cadets are all being prepared to be team players. To teach them, the instructors divide them into teams. Each team has its own tasks. Taking turns the first team his responsible for all flying preparations, the second is responsible for preparing all meals and the third for cleaning. Every day starts with a good and healthy breakfast, followed by a briefing. To kick off every briefing one Air Cadet has to share something funny he experienced in his life which should teach all others about teamwork. After that a funny aviation clip is shown. Winking, "To wake up" jokes Jeffrey. Then serious business follows, like weather forecasts and intel about wind direction and -speed. The Cadets wash their gliders and prepare them for their training flights. At Weelde air base, the gliders start with the aid of a winch. At air bases Goetsenhoven and Jehonville in Bertrix, L-21B Super Cubs are used as tow aircraft to bring the gliders in the air.

Support from the Belgian Air Component

During regular working days, Jeffrey Debruyne is the head of the department Operations from the 15th Wing based at Melsbroek Air Base, but during summer he's the squadron leader Belgian Air Cadets at Weelde air base. He explains what the support of the Belgian Air Component consists of: "Even though the Belgian Air Cadets is a civil association, our air component feels that it's extremely important to support the Belgian Air Cadets. The reason is that the Belgian Air Cadets succeeds is making youngsters enthusiastic about having a career with us. Pilots aren't easy to find for military aviation, let alone to keep. To train young ones to become glider pilots makes them much easier interested in military aviation. Jeffrey goes on: "The Belgian Air Cadets buys its own airplanes. The air component maintains the gliders at its expense. She also lets the Belgian Air Cadets use (parts of) the air bases Weelde, Goetsenhoven, Jehonville and (during weekends) Florennes, including the facilities and vehicles on these bases for free. Finally active military like me train the young Cadets. The Belgian Air Component pays for time we put in." Jeffrey concludes: "Training the Cadets brings us a lot of fulfilment. Besides it serves a good purpose, training those young guys and girls is a lot of fun too. We always feel appreciated by our Cadets."

In conclusion

The Belgian Air Component and several other countries feel the need for supporting air cadets. Just like the Belgian Air Component several other air forces, like the Royal Netherlands Air Force, have difficulties finding and committing young adolescents to the air force. Maybe all those air forces need to investigate the need for founding their own air cadets to help solving the problem at hand?

This article was published in 'Onze Luchtmacht' of the Royal Netherlands Air Force Association, issue nr. 6, December2 2011/January 2012. Click here to see the article.

Global Air Power Media would like to thank Captain Jeffrey Debruyne, the intructors and the Belgian Air Cadets for their hospitality.