746 Lightning Hawks fly home

Air Cadet Squadron welcomes the public to an open house this weekend at the Langley Airport.

746 Lightning Hawks Sgt. Michael Montano

The 746 Lightning Hawks are homeless no longer.

On Sept. 6, the air cadet squadron held its first parade night in the new home – office, classroom and storage space upstairs in Hangar 5 at the Langley Airport, ending a three-year search.

A fire in 1995 destroyed the Panorama Ridge Community Hall, headquarters of what was then called the 746 Cloverdale Squadron.

The Lightning Hawks have been roving around ever since, landing at CFD Aldergrove for a number of years, until they were forced out in 2010 because of Olympic security operations.

Most recently, the squadron used Envision Financial facilities in downtown Langley following a stint at the Canadian Museum of Flight, also at the airport.

Cadets, officers and parents are thrilled with the new digs, which look out onto the tarmac, dotted with small aircraft.

“It was in rough shape,” says Judy Montano, chair of the parents committee, thanking the volunteers who helped with renovations.

Moving in means treasures have been retrieved from storage, including trophies – now proudly displayed in a wooden cabinet – and a framed blue and gold banner bearing the emblem of the 746 Cloverdale Squadron. (The squadron celebrates its 50th anniversary next year.)

This Saturday, the squadron hosts an open house. The public can meet cadets, officers and parents, and new recruits can sign up on the spot.

The squadron, open to Fraser Valley youth aged 12 to 18, is a training program focused on aviation (both power and gliding), and other activities, including First Aid, team sports, music, effective speaking, military drill, parades, summer camps and international trips.

“We call it the world’s best-kept secret, because not enough people know about cadets,” says Montano. Her goal is to help spread the word about the program.

“Air cadets is one of the best youth programs that there is,” says Flight Cpl. Issac Kubis, 14, who was one of six cadets from Canada who joined their American counterparts in helping marshal planes at an air show in Arlington, WA, this summer.

Flight line marshaling, he says, is like “parking” planes.

“It was really fun,” says Kubis, a Grade 9 student at D.W. Poppy.

Kubis also took part in a four-day survival course in rugged Juan de Fuca Sound. Participants were dropped off with scant food rations. Due to the fire risk, they weren’t even allowed to light camp fires.

“They just dropped us off and said, ‘Here, survive,’” grins Kubis, who’s hoping to get his pilot license and wants to one day become a jet fighter or airplane mechanic.

“You get so many opportunities – it’s hard to explain to your friends,” says Fight Cpl. Ethan Tessier, a student at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary who followed an older cousin into cadets.

He’s excited at the prospect of taking glider and power plane courses and other activities open to 746 Squadron members.

Sgt. Michael Montano, 14, went on a scholarship course this summer to North Bay, Ontario, where he took an advanced aviation technology course in airport operations – in other words, airport management – and rising each morning at 5 a.m.

“It was pretty hectic, but it was a lot of fun.”

He also went to NORAD – the headquarters of North American Aerospace Defence Command immortalized in the 1983 movie WarGames, complete with banks of computers and  giant video monitors.

“It was just like that!” he grins.

Ever since Montano was a little kid, he’s been interested in aviation.

“I grew up at an airport – I was fascinated. It’s always been my dream to be a pilot.”

He joined air cadets when he realized it could help him become a commercial pilot.

He says one of the central tenets of cadets learning leadership skills.

It turns out notable former air cadets include two astronauts (Chris Hadfield and Jeremy Hansen), ex-Newfoundland premier Brian Tobin, B.C. MLA Mike de Jong, current B.C. Lt.-Gov. Stephen L. Point, and former prime minister Joe Clark. Leaders all.

Along with poppy sales on behalf of the Royal Canadian Legion in November, the squadron takes part in the annual Remembrance Day parade and service in Cloverdale, standing guard, statue-like, at the Surrey Cenotaph.

“That was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. You can’t move. I had this rifle on my foot,” recalls Sgt. Montano. “I have to stand there. You can’t move. It gives you a lot of time to think about stuff.”

What if you get an itchy nose? “Suck it up,” he shrugs.