By Raven Jordan

After a hiatus that started during the pandemic that moved training online, the Redbird Composite Civil Air Patrol Squadron is in the process of rebuilding its ranks.

The squadron is a training program for youth who are interested in going into the Air Force, aerospace engineering, or just building up their leadership skills. Sometimes they test fly planes, but on this particular Sunday, they’re creating and test launching rockets.

Redbird Composite Squadron is tucked away on the site of Dallas Executive Airport in Redbird. The size of the squadrons vary, and this one is small with about 10 cadets in a classroom.  

One of the four instructors for the program, Lionel Lewis, is guiding the day’s lesson and checking the cadets knowledge on aerospace principles and rocket dynamics.

Deputy Cadet Major Advika Srinivasan, a cadet who’s been in the squadron since she was 13, briefed me about the run of the day building and testing rockets compared to more intensive moments, like flying the planes.

Each of the cadets use paper, plastic tubing and duct tape materials to build their stomp rockets.

“Right now, for example, one of our cadets is drawing out his wings to put on the rocket while the other cadets have already completed that and are going over a little review that we’re doing right now,” Srinivasan said. “Each week, we do a different part of the program. There’s four things that we focus on: leadership, aerospace, character development, physical fitness. So, this week is our airspace week.”

Advika Srinivasan, right, is the first female to earn the rank of deputy lieutenant colonel in the Red Bird Squadron. Photo coutrtesy of Red Bird Squadron.

There aren’t many female students in the program, but Srinivasan— who is currently a lieutenant colonel— is one of three and also the first female to reach the rank of cadet lieutenant colonel. There are also two brothers in the squadron who have reached the rank of cadet colonel, the highest rank, and were the first Black siblings to reach that rank in Texas.

“From such a young age, you’re given a lot of responsibility and you learn to mature so when you get to high school, and you get to college, you don’t fluster when responsibility comes,” she said. “The opportunities you get sometimes to be a leader of an activity or a cadet commander, those opportunities aren’t available to a lot of kids.” 

Redbird Civil Air Patrol Deputy Commander Jerra Williams, says the group recruits new members through schools or events like the Wings over Dallas airshow. 

“These cadets come from all over: Arlington, Waxahachie, Grand Prairie,” Williams said. “Basically, their parents find Sunday evenings a good time for them to come do this.”

The program uses Cessna 172 planes to train the cadets, which are fully funded by the U.S. Airforce. Once squadron cadets turn 21, they can choose to transfer to the Civil Air Patrol as a senior member.

Also, District 30 Representative Jasmine Crockett has been showing support for the program as they grow their membership and work to diversify the squadron, according to Squadron Commander Major Cleveland Brown.

“Our primary focus is to make sure that we are the pathway for underrepresented areas and the cadets, which are 12 to 18 years old,” Brown said. “So this is a program, I would say five or six cadets have found scholarships to Oklahoma Christian University,  One that went to Texas A&M. We’ve had two cadets get the Experimental Aircraft Association Scholarship to go to Oshkosh. We’ve had those kinds of scholarships through the membership of the Civil Air Patrol.”

The Redbird Composite Squadron meets from 4 – 6 p.m. every Sunday at the Dallas Executive Airport. More information about the program can be found here.