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Chaplain Perry Polk, of the Travis Air Force Base Composite Squadron 22 of the Civil Air Patrol in Fairfield, works on cutting out foam model airplanes as cadets learn to fly radio-controlled aircraft at the East Bay Radio Controllers field in Livermore, Calif., Monday, July 22, 2013. Polk said the models will be used in a lesson about flight. The cadets are participating in a weeklong program to hone their flying skills. (Cindi Christie/Bay Area News Group)

LIVERMORE -- For Civil Air Patrol cadet Jason Torikawa-Domingo, aviation is a way of life.

His grandfather worked on fighter jets, his father was an airplane mechanic, and his mother worked in the cargo department for an aerospace company. His parents even met in an airport.

"It's in my blood, I guess," he said.

Torikawa-Domingo, 18, traveled to Livermore from his home in Oahu, Hawaii, to take part in a six-day immersion into the world of radio-controlled model planes, along with 19 other cadets from 17 states. The goal of the Civil Air Patrol summer camp, which began Sunday, is to teach budding pilots and aeronautics engineers the basics of flight on a smaller but relative scale.

"I'm learning as much about aviation as I can," said Torikawa-Domingo, who holds a private pilot's license. "It allows you to see from the ground how the airplane reacts to the conditions; even though you can't see from the cockpit, you understand why it does what it does."

Retired Air Force Lt. Col. Randy Carlson, a team leader with the Pacific region's Civil Air Patrol -- a nonprofit auxiliary of the Air Force -- conceived of the program as a way to teach cadets how to fly and to build enthusiasm for remote-controlled planes in future pilots and engineers.

"Youth today want to get on a computer and play a game," Carlson said. "In a year or two these guys will be flying a real plane. You want to hook them with something tangible."


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Many cadets, he said, will go on to become military or commercial pilots. Eventually, Carlson said, he would like to hold at least six similar events nationwide each year.

"This is the next generation of everything in our world," Carlson said. "If you can make a difference in just one life, you've accomplished what you wanted to do."

For the first time, the East Bay Radio Controllers -- which celebrates its 60th anniversary next year -- hosted the event at their Livermore airfield off Vasco Road, with help from members of the Livermore Flying Electrons. Club President Tim Wilkerson said the group's members are trying to pass on their interest in radio-controlled planes to the youth. The club often lends planes to newcomers; the aircraft themselves can be built from kits or from scratch, for $100 or less.

"The payoff is when you build it and it works," Wilkerson said with a laugh.

"There are a few tricks to learn," he said. "You have to put yourself in the pilot's seat, because your feet are on the ground. You want it to come back to you."

Instructors' controllers are linked with the students' through a "buddy box" that allows the teacher to take over in case of an impending accident. There were a few minor crashes, but nothing that glue and patience couldn't fix.

Like people in a military camp, the cadets, all dressed in uniform fatigues, are staying overnight in the barracks at Camp Parks in Dublin, going through morning inspections and drills before hitting the airfield.

The only local cadet, Sarah Smith, 15, of Dublin, said her aviation interest began only recently, but she already is planning to get a pilot's license.

"The past few days I've been able to learn so much," she said. "There aren't many opportunities where you can take a week off and learn something new, and meet interesting people from all over the country."

Cadet 1st Lt. Joshua Christian, 16, of Denver, said he's interested in an aerospace career and showed off his piloting skills with a plane he modified from an inexpensive foam glider.

"Just being able to see something you built from a dollar store piece-by-piece fly, and fly well, is rewarding," he said.

Besides flight practice, the cadets spent hours on computer flight simulators and in classes on building and repairing aircraft.

After returning home, all the cadets will be sent a kit to build their own plane to fly with their local RC clubs.

"Hopefully I can bring it back to the island and get a group together from my squadron and come back next year," Torikawa-Domingo said.

LEARN TO FLY
The East Bay Radio Controllers club will celebrate its 60th year in Livermore in 2014. For club details, or to join, visit www.eastbayrc.org. Information on the group's sister club, the Livermore Flying Electrons, can be found at www.lferc.com. For details the Civil Air Patrol and its programs, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com/.