By ELIZABETH WALKER
Camp Commandant Flight Lieutenant John Wohlgemuth, RAF VR(T), who has led the group for the past 19 years, said, “It is a unique experience for the cadets that I don’t want to stop. Seeing the excitement of the cadets, the friends they make here, and the experiences the cadets get out of it motivates me to not let it end.”
This year, 35 cadets and 14 staff members made the trip. The cadets come from the southeast of England in the counties of London, Sussex, Essex, Kent, Middlesex, and Surrey. All cadets and staff pay their own way. This year’s trip cost $1,500.
Wohlgemuth said it is not hard to recruit participants.
“Florida and aviation is all I have to say,” Wohlgemuth noted.
The cadets are traveling with their own chef, Flight Sergeant Alan Huelin, who also made the trip last year.
“Chef Alan has been cooking some very nice food for the camp,” Wohlgemuth said.
SUN ‘n FUN provides the British Cadets space in the Cliff Mullins Campground and volunteer Keith Lukat serves as their area chairman and gets things ready for their arrival.
“We are so thankful that Keith takes care of us,” Wohlgemuth said. “When we arrive he has the tents, golf cart, fuel, lunches, and other things ordered for us. He attends the meetings and keeps us informed. It would be hard for us to take care of all the logistics from England.”
The cadets also volunteer on a rotating basis in various areas. During the week of the fly-in, they visit the workshops, including building wing ribs, metal shaping, and welding. They also are able to explore the exhibits, look at the planes, and attend several parties.
There were four returning cadets in the group this year. Cadets are encouraged to return to help the new cadets adjust to the campsite, find their way around the exhibits, meet new friends, and to answer questions. One of those returning was Cadet Warrant Officer Anthony Thomas.
“I came back because of the great experience I had last year,” Thomas said. “I like the aviation exhibits, meeting new people, and exploring Florida.”
“They are very envious of the Central Florida Aerospace Academy, the 727 classroom, and the Lakeland Aero Club,” Wohlgemuth said. “These are amazing facilities for young people to learn aviation.”
“It kicks our ambition to fly to another level when we see kids our age flying,” Thomas added. “In England it is very limited and very expensive for a young person to fly.”
The cadets had two highlights during their first day at SUN ‘n FUN. They visited with pilot and owner Jerry Conley of Utah and his restored British Vampire fighter. The jet warbird served as a Royal Air Force fighter jet after World War II and later was flown by the Swiss Air Force. The cadets also spent time practicing on the paragliding simulator in Paradise City on the SUN ‘n FUN grounds.
The cadets also were looking forward to a pizza party with the Civil Air Patrol Air Cadets. They have already been in touch via social media and are bringing badges, patches and other items to swap.
“In the past, friendships made at this event have led to visits to England, as well as return visits for the British youths to Florida,” said Wohlgemuth.
“I have had cadets make friends with volunteers who have invited them back so they could take flying lessons and build up hours and they are now commercial pilots,” Wohlgemuth said. “The volunteers really help them when they come back.”
Before arriving at SUN ‘n FUN the cadets visited the graves of 23 Royal Air Force Cadets in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in Arcadia, Florida. These cadets died while in flight training in South Florida during World War II. They also visited the Kennedy Space Center and Busch Gardens. Before returning home they visited Universal Studios.
“The Royal Air Force Cadets are celebrating their 75th anniversary this year and have a commemorative 75 on their shirt sleeve,” Wohlgemuth said.
They also have a new Royal Patron. “The Duchess of Cambridge is our Honorary Air Commandant,” Wohlgemuth said. “She is our boss.”
When the cadets return home they will participate in various celebrations throughout the year in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of their organization.