This story was written by Dan Landson for AirlineReporter.com.
Inside an unassuming building at the North Las Vegas Airport (VGT) there is a buzz of activity. Radios are busy with communications between ground crews and air crews. Teams are being dispatched to check potential threats, others being sent to search for missing aircraft. Reports of explosions, a possible terror cell spotted in a rural part of the state and the potential to save lives has the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) in Nevada and California on high alert. These are just some of real-world scenarios that the Air Force’s Auxiliary responds to on a daily basis and today is no different; except it’s all a drill.
AirlineReporter.com was recently invited to get a behind the scenes look at a two-state, multi-agency training drill. The entire drill was being watched by Air Force officials who graded the CAP’s response. The actual mission started on May 10th and concluded on May 18th.
On the morning I was there, it started with a military-like briefing involving all of Nevada’s CAP units participating. Safety officers described the flying conditions and the hazards flight crews may encounter; Weather officers describe the beautiful 80 degree weather and light winds; and the incident commander took the lead and described the missions that they will be responding too. The three missions involve two missing aircraft and a reported explosion in Northern Nevada.
At the North Las Vegas airport flight crews utilize a specially outfitted Cessna 182 and 206. Both are equipped with G-1000s and Bendix King radios making it easier to communicate with ground units to find downed aircraft, missing hikers or whatever else crews are tasked with.
CAP operates the largest fleet of single-engine aircraft in the nation with a fleet of 550 airplanes. These include more than 110 aircraft with Garmin glass-cockpits, Gippsland Airvans with high-tech imaging systems, and digital emergency radio direction finder equipment.
The flight crews are made up of a pilot and one or two observers. The observers assist the pilot with checklists and gauge checks while also trying to spot the target of their respective mission.
On the ground, young adults in the cadet program are dressed in their camouflage uniforms, just as the Air Force would and stand ready to respond to any emergency. Since this is a real life training scenario, only a few know what to expect, leaving the rest in the dark about where they’ll be sent.
“A lot of people don’t know [the Civil Air Patrol] exists,” 19-Year-Old Cadet Lt. Col. Bert Kirk said. He stated that many people think they are kids who wear Air Force uniforms, but it is much more than that. Cadets receive much of the same emergency training that firefighters and police officers get. Kirk is graduating from Rancho High School and will attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He is planning to one day become an Air Force pilot.
For adults, CAP allows them to give back to communities where they live. This mission’s Incident Commander, Major Carol Lynn, wanted to find some type of search and rescue operation involving dogs and her research led her to CAP.
The complex planning and organizing of the week-long mission is an example of the types of missions the Civil Air Patrol is dispatched to everyday across the country. Lynn explained, “From the moment a call comes in, the CAP has a goal of getting a plane in the air within an hour.” Lynn’s team leadership paid off. The Air Force awarded an “Excellence” rating for their response to the multi-state training mission.
Some of the more prevalent CAP missions were the search for adventurer Steve Fossett, whose remains and crashed airplane were found in Northern California months after he never returned from a flight in 2008. The CAP also assisted in the Gulf Oil Spill by photographing the movement of oil on a daily basis.
Most recently the Nevada wing carried out a two missions in the northern part of the state. The first mission led to the successful rescue of three people who were involved in plane crash. The second mission helped search and rescue teams locate another missing plane. Unfortunately, no one survived that crash.
The CAP conducts nearly all of the Air Force’s search and rescue missions within the continental United States. Most of all 61,000 members are volunteers who care about their community and their country and each year they help to save an average of 80 to 100 lives.