July 7, 2022

Top Gun NOTL: Dreams of a high-flying career

Jon Robinson

— By Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report (Photo: Evan Saunders)

Air cadet Shay Vidal has some high-flying dreams.

Being a member of Niagara-on-the-Lake’s 809 Newark Royal Canadian Air Cadet Squadron has shaped Vidal’s future.

“It’s the best program I’ve joined in my whole life,” 17-year-old Shay says.

“It’s offered me countless memorable experiences and I’ve met some of my best friends in this program.”

And now, after five years as a cadet, Vidal is getting ready to pursue a career as a pilot.

“I’m looking at Royal Military College or if I don’t choose to go the military route I’m thinking Waterloo, Moncton or Mohawk (among other options),” he said.

Shay said his experience in the cadets has not only helped him discover a passion for aviation and determine a career path but also given him invaluable skills.

“The biggest thing is leadership. I’ve learned how to be a leader and just to be dedicated overall to the program,” he said.

“It’s given me a great work ethic, (taught me) how to work with people and how to lead others,” he said.

But the focus on aviation has truly changed the young man’s life.

“I’ve learned more about piloting and aviation than I could have ever dreamed. It’s helped me tremendously in my goal to become a pilot.”

The robust education and lessons he has received in the program made a big difference, he said.

“I’ve taken away more from this program than I’ve taken away from my entire high school career.”

A love for aviation runs deep within the cadet crew. A few weeks ago, the entire squadron went out to see the new “Top Gun: Maverick” film together.

“We went to the prescreening,” Shay said enthusiastically.

“It was a great film. The second half was a love letter to planes, to aviation.”

Shay was with one of his fellow cadets, several friends and some parents at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 124 for the recent Cadet Bottle Drive.

“The bottle drive covers a lot of (the cadets’) expenses,” parent Christine Lett said.

This year’s bottle drive netted more than $2,500 for the program, said chair Cory Abt.

The bottle drives have been particularly important this year as the cadets get to return to normal training after summers disrupted by the pandemic.

“The guys haven’t had a normal experience in the last two years. They’ve missed a lot of the hands-on stuff,” said Lett.

Among other things the fundraiser will help cover hands-on training this summer and provide the money for learning materials, such as the parts to build model planes.

But it hasn’t all been book learning and engineering lessons for the cadets. The organization ensures they have fun as well.

They recently spent a free day at Canada’s Wonderland, which hosts a Cadet Day every year.

“We just wanted to let them have fun,” Lett said.

Meanwhile, the squadron collected several truckloads of bottles at collection stations across NOTL to help cadets make their high-flying dreams a reality. The next bottle drive will be in September, after the Labour Day weekend.