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Cadet squadron fights to survive
IT has proudly served the district since 1941 . . . but Cowley Air Cadet squadron could be grounded permanently unless it finds new recruits.
From more than 30 cadets at one point over the past year, now it has just four.
Squadron leader Nigel Furlong has pledged to do whatever it takes to see the troop flying high again.
And it is hoped a donation of almost £900 from Blackbirds Leys Parish Council for a new flight simulator could give it the big lift it needs.
Mr Furlong addressed the parish council on Tuesday.
As a youth he found himself unemployed following mass job losses in the 1980s in Birkenhead and turned to the cadets to keep out of trouble.
Cowley Squadron celebrates its 72nd birthday on February 5, and he hopes it won’t be its last.
He said: “To put it straight, the squadron is in dire straits.
“The numbers have dropped from 30 to four, and I have got one year to save it.
“I cannot and will not allow it to die out.
“We are going to get back up to full capacity and we are going to be the best squadron in Thames Valley.”
Mr Furlong, of Cowley, joined as an adult volunteerin 1991.
He took over at Cowley in December having previously been at Wantage Squadron.
The 46-year-old said: “We are surrounded by terrific opportunities here in Oxfordshire with science parks and technology around us. These places will often look locally to recruit and so I hope we can help get kids off the streets and into a position where they can get a job too.”
One up and coming squadron star is 16-year-old Keiran Walton, who has urged other teenagers to join and share the experience.
He recently flew a glider at 612 Volunteer Gliding School of the Air Training Corps near Abingdon.
The Cowley squadron has lost members for more than a year as many youngsters seek full-time work or leave the area to go to university.
And in August the Oxford Mail reported that many local parents feared youngsters may be “groomed” for military action and that the squadron had only nine members.
Thames Valley Air Cadet numbers stand at around 9,000, but with only 12 gliders across the district flight time is limited.
The purchase of a flight simulator could offer recruits up to 20 or 30 hours flying time, but they would get much more from being part of the squadron.
It offers qualifications and a wide range of activities, from the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and BTECs to learning musical instruments.
Anyone aged 13 to 17 can join the group which meets twice a week, on Monday and Wednesday evenings, at the ATC building in Sandy Lane West.
ATC squadrons are funded by the RAF and cadets learn flying, gliding, visit RAF stations and can train for BTECs and The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award.
There are 26 squadrons across the Thames Valley region, including 14 in Oxfordshire.
To join the ATC contact Wing Headquarters on 01235 547 990 or visit aircadets.tv/join/cadet where you can complete an online application form.
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