MacKay visit thrills staff cadets

A surprise visit by National Defence Minister Peter MacKay thrilled a couple of Penhold staff cadets who sat in the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet on Saturday.

Flight Sgt. Paul Kuhse (left) and Flight Sgt. Nico Bautista (right) chat with National Defence Minister Peter MacKay (centre) at the Calgary International Airport on Saturday.

Flight Sgt. Paul Kuhse (left) and Flight Sgt. Nico Bautista (right) chat with National Defence Minister Peter MacKay (centre) at the Calgary International Airport on Saturday.

A surprise visit by National Defence Minister Peter MacKay thrilled a couple of Penhold staff cadets who sat in the cockpit of a CF-18 Hornet fighter jet on Saturday.

Flight Sgt. Nico Bautista, 18, of Grande Prairie, and Flight Sgt. Paul Kuhse, 17, of Edmonton, were given a special military treat as part of this year’s cadet training at the Penhold Air Cadet Summer Training Centre.

The air cadets were chosen to spend a day learning about aviation, specifically ground work, with the CF-18 Demo Team at the Calgary International Airport.

The demonstration team was slated to land at the Red Deer Regional Airport earlier in the month but poor weather conditions postponed the event.

The cadets were on the runway when the minister of defence stepped out from behind the fighter jet.

MacKay was in the city for the Stampede and decided to pay an impromptu visit to the crews at the airport.

“He just came out of nowhere,” laughed Bautista, who knew who the national minister was at once. “We had a talk with him.”

Bautista would not go into specific details but said they talked about military aircraft and flying in general.

Bautista said MacKay spoke at length with the pilot and the entire visit was about half an hour.

He said the visit is not one he would likely forget anytime soon.

Throughout the day the cadets were given tours of the Canadian fighter jet, an American F-16 fighter jet and a helicopter. They watched the ground crews conduct preflight drills and inspections and learned about landing gear. Bautista sat in the cockpit of the CF-18 Hornet and turned the key while Kuhse marshalled the jet into its parking spot.

While Bautista has his pilot’s licence, the 18-year-old said learning about ground crews gave him another perspective on flying.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com