Story by Heike Dodge
Like many young boys back in 1997, 11-year-old Jake Heffron, a resident of Morrison County, had an interest in the military, aviation and survival. With his older brother already in Civil Air Patrol (CAP), it seemed natural for Heffron to also join, and he still remembers his first flight in a small airplane on an orientation flight through CAP.
“That memory of how it felt lifting off the ground has stuck with me,” said Heffron, now a major in the Crow Wing Composite Squadron, who recently received his certified flight instructor (CFI) rating.
As a cadet, Heffron learned to fly through Civil Air Patrol. At 18, he received his private pilot license. “If it was not for CAP, I would not have been able to afford it at that time,” he said.
He is currently active as a mission pilot and has focused much of his training on the ground-side of missions, serving as a ground team leader for several missions.
Heffron has been instrumental in teaching aircraft ground handling, flight line marshalling, unmanned aerial vehicle orientation, remote control aircraft and other aerospace topics to cadets and area youth groups. He served as squadron commander for several years, as well.
Now, Heffron wants to give that opportunity to other cadets.
“I have always wanted to give cadets the same opportunity I had as a teenager, to be able to get my pilot’s license,” he said.
In 2015, he provided more orientation flights to adults and cadets than nearly any other CAP pilot in Minnesota. As a CFI, he can now provide the flight training to cadets and adults that was provided to him.
The same pilot that gave Heffron his first hour of flight instruction 15 years ago was instrumental in helping him attain his CFI rating.
“Tom Pfingsten volunteered his time (of) over 100 hours, by my estimate, to help me accomplish this goal,” Heffron said.
Pfingsten, also a major in CAP and member of Crow Wing Composite Squadron, is an accomplished pilot with over 6,000 hours.
“I was very proud to have him help me finish my goal. I am very thankful for him,” Heffron said of his mentor.
“Jake is a solid and knowledgeable pilot. He passed his CFI practical on the first attempt, which is impressive, since about 75 percent of CIF applicants do not,” Pfingsten said.
Civil Air Patrol, the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, serves three primary missions: emergency services, which includes search and rescue by air and ground, and disaster relief operations; aerospace education for youth and the general public; and cadet programs for teenage youth. CAP operates a fleet of 550 aircraft and is credited by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) with saving an average of 78 lives annually. There are approximately 24,000 youth participating in CAP cadet programs and 56,000 members nationwide.
“CAP gave me skills that I needed to attain a successful career. The search and rescue side of CAP gave me skills that I have used in my job in law enforcement,” said Heffron, who also serves as a deputy with the Morrison County Sheriff’s Department. Sitting on promotion boards as a cadet in CAP has helped Heffron be successful in job interviews.
“I also learned that volunteer service can be rewarding, and you do not always need to be paid for something to be considered worthwhile,” he said.
Heffron’s goal is to give back to community.
“CAP pilots are all volunteer so I have the opportunity to instruct cadets who want to become pilots and help them reach their goals,” Heffron said.
Of Heffron’s desire to give back, Pfingsten said, “The ink isn’t quite dry on his CFI certificate yet and he’s already been up in the air instructing.”
Heffron and Pfingsten are members of Crow Wing Composite Squadron, which meets Monday evenings at the Brainerd Airport. To find out more about Civil Air Patrol, visit gocivilairpatrol.com.