As Caleb Sherin steered an airplane through a flight simulator Tuesday night, he was able to share his aviation interests with like-minded kids who are a part of a Civil Air Patrol squadron.

Karen Sherin, Caleb's mother, drove her 9 year old son from their Dimock home on Tuesday to the Civil Air Patrol open house held at the Dakota Flight Center in Mitchell. There, Caleb was exposed to a variety of unique aviation activities and exercises members of the Sioux Falls Civil Air Patrol engage in throughout the year.

The Civil Air Patrol is a national organization under the auxiliary of the United States Air Force that provides its members an opportunity to learn practical aviation skills and aerospace education. To become a member of the Civil Air Patrol, one must be at least 12 years of age. The cost of membership is $32 per year for cadets-which comprise of kids ages 12 to 19-while senior members pay a $58 annual membership fee.

There are currently six communities in South Dakota with Civil Air Patrol squadrons, but senior member and Mitchell resident Matt Healy is hoping to change that. The open house marked the beginning of Healy's quest to establish a Civil Air Patrol squadron in Mitchell.

"It's a really interesting organization to be a part of, and we are trying to get a presence here in Mitchell, which we hope will help us get a squadron here," Healy said. "It's not just a great opportunity for kids interested in aviation and aerospace to learn hands-on skills, it also helps build leadership qualities for adults and teenagers."

Karen said her son Caleb became fascinated with aviation after his first plane ride to North Carolina when he was 3, and she hopes a Mitchell squadron will be established by the time her son is eligible to join in three years.

"He just loves planes and has been very interested in learning about aviation and aerospace," Karen said of her son Caleb. "There are so many different aspects of the Civil Air Patrol program, and he can't wait to join. I also have a 15-year-old son who wants to join, but we can't drive to Sioux Falls every week, so we're really hoping for a Mitchell location."

Healy joined the Civil Air Patrol more than a year ago, and said his passion for aviation has only grew, leading to him attaining his private pilot license. It also became a family affair in the Healy household, as two of his kids are members of the Sioux Falls squadron.

"I feel there are enough kids within a 30-mile radius for us to have a Mitchell squadron, so the demand is there," Healy said. "It would be great not having to commute every week to Sioux Falls."

During the weekly meetings, cadets and senior members participate in training exercises geared toward preparing the squadron for a wide variety of missions that consist of search and rescue and emergency service missions. According to Healy, some of the missions are in conjunction with the South Dakota Air National Guard and Air Force.

While the Air Force funds the Civil Air Patrol and provides the squadron planes, along with funding the technology devices used in weekly modules and exercises, Healy said members are not obligated to join the military. However, he feels the program exposes kids to the South Dakota Air National Guard and Air Force.

"We've went on missions with the South Dakota Air National Guard, and it was so cool getting to fly alongside F-16 jets," Healy said. "It gives kids a chance to see some of what goes into the Air Force and Air Guards."

Mimi Klostermann, a senior member with the Sioux Falls squadron, has been with the Civil Air Patrol for a decade, and she assisted Healy during the open house. Like Healy, Klostermann has several kids of her own who are members of the Civil Air Patrol.

Klostermann said some of the unique missions include helping assess flooding damages and natural disasters. According to Klostermann, members of the Sioux Falls squadron recently put their skills to the test, as some senior members and cadets were a part of a Civil Air Patrol flight mission that entailed taking photos of the Nebraska flooding. The photos were then submitted to the state of Nebraska's emergency managers and were used to help assess the flooding damages inflicted on the neighboring state.

The real-life mission is one of many that members of the Civil Air Patrol prepare for during the weekly meetings. In addition, Klostermann said the Sioux Falls squadron has successfully completed missions for the South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks, in which some of the members provided animal tracking from the air.

"We are essentially training for real missions, and the purpose is to train so we can be ready if we are called upon like we were for the Nebraska flooding missions," Klostermann said.

Another unique component to the Civil Air Patrol program is the STEM kits, which are primarily geared toward cadets. The STEM kits include a wide array of aerospace technology devices such as drones, mini rockets and weather sensors. A flight simulator was also popular with those on hand at the event.

"We want to introduce the kids to as many areas of aviation and aerospace science as possible," Klostermann said. "Overall, this program is a great place for kids to grow and learn."