U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. -- For Mark Matticola, a civilian soaring instructor pilot assigned to the 94th Flying Training Squadron, being recognized as the most active glider instructor in the nation by the Soaring Society of America was easy.
"I get paid to do my hobby every day," said Matticola, who was recognized earlier this month. "We mentor the cadets. We teach them disciplined standards, enthusiasm and teamwork. The cadets do all the real work." Matticola, who is also a lieutenant colonel reservist assigned to the 70th Flying Training Squadron but attached to the 94th FTS, beat out more than 400 other soaring instructors from across the country for the honor.
He is the first instructor recognized and certified as a master SSA cross-country instructor in U.S. Air Force Academy history and is the first instructor to be a national judge for the International Aerobatic Club.
"I rely on Matti's talents daily to keep our young officer candidates safe and to develop their Airmanship and leadership," said Lt. Col. Brad Roller, 94th FTS commander. "His contributions directly support the Academy's mission to develop leaders of character."
Matticola is the coach for the 94th's Advanced Soaring Programs. They include the Cadet Aerobatic Demonstration Team and the Cadet Sailplane Racing Team. Each program is led entirely by cadets, but the squadron is responsible for overseeing all aspects of training; from aerobatic training, cross-country soaring and participation in intercollegiate competitions. Throughout the course of the year Matticola instructs 12 cadets and five officers on each team.
According to Matticola, "For the Cadet Sailplane Racing Team to compete, the tow plane carries the glider to 2,000 feet and then it is up to the pilot to read the sky for weather and use the lift to soar as far as they can." Matticola is one of only 42 SSA master cross-country instructor pilots in the nation and uses his knowledge to teach students after 15 flights to go on cross-country soaring tasks. The average sailplane competition flight last summer was 250 miles. These distances allowed the racing team to break the distance record for most miles flown in U.S Air Force Academy history with more than 30,700 miles flown in 2012. "In advanced soaring, students are breaking records that I've never seen before. I teach students to beat me; to be better than me. They are learning faster than we can teach them," he said.
The 94th FTS' competitive soaring teams frequently compete against civilian glider enthusiasts who have 20-30 years of experience. Despite the odds, Matticola led the Cadet Aerobatic Demonstration Team to the best season in more than 23 years, earning 77 medals and 27 trophies.
The 94th FTS conducts more than 16,000 training and competition soaring sorties annually using 24 TG-15 and TG-16 aircraft. The squadron focuses on developing officership, leadership and character in the more than 1,600 U.S. Air Force Academy cadets who go through its program each year. "The soaring program is an outstanding leadership lab for cadets. Aviation experience is just a byproduct of what we do," Matticola said.