Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Klamath Falls, Oregon: Civil Air Patrol flies first mission with own aircraft -- Civilian eyes in the sky have provided support since WWII

Civil Air Patrol pilot Lt. Gary Fink sits behind the controls of a Cessna 182 that just became the squadron's first official aircraft.

Since the early days of World War II, volunteer pilots and crews have served in the Civil Air Patrol (CAP). Today, their role is three-fold: Emergency services support including search and rescue; aerospace education for youth helping train tomorrow’s pilots and leaders; and as supplemental support for the U.S. Air Force.

For the Klamath Falls Composite Squadron, one of 11 Oregon CAP squadrons, their role is closely tied to Kingsley Air Base as an official auxiliary of the Air Force. Nonprofit and federally chartered, the volunteer organization is a helping hand to the military, a vital cog in times of emergency, and a protector of general aviation for the future.

Last Friday marked a monumental day in the Klamath Falls CAP squadron’s history, flying its first official mission with its own CAP aircraft. Though formed shortly after WWII, Klamath Falls’ squadron has never had an official airplane to call its own, compounding the difficulty of coordinating missions based on aircraft availability to loan.

Flying low-level, a three-member crew comprised of CAP Mission Pilot Lt. Gary Fink, Mission Observer Lt. Rick Flowers and Mission Scanner Capt. Brian Smith, took the CAP’s newly christened Cessna 182 along defined military training routes surveying possible obstructions not already marked on maps.

These routes are used by military aircraft for low-level, high-speed training. To ensure safety, it is the CAP’s mission to fly these routes in advance of missions to check for towers, powerlines or other potential hazards.

The CAP flight helped ensure that aircraft participating in the upcoming Sentry Eagle operations July 21-22 can perform their missions safely.

The Klamath Falls squadron has 20 senior members, seven of which are pilots, and 26 teens in the cadet program. Cadets and members meet every Thursday evening on the base, participating in a range of activities such as rocketry, aircraft operations and search and rescue techniques.

For youth interested in aviation and aerospace, the cadet program offers an introduction to flying. It doesn’t obligate any military service, though after completing initial training, cadets can enter the Air Force at an elevated E-3 pay grade or be eligible for special college scholarships.

Participation includes orientation flights in CAP and military aircraft. Offered to teens ages 12-18, cadets get first-hand experience with search and rescue, radio communications, first aid, survival training, model rocketry, basic military drill and more to help inspire youth today to be tomorrow’s pilots.

“I’ve learned over time to be a really good leader,” said Alana Rising, Chief Master Sergeant of the Klamath Falls Cadet Program. “I do love to fly, and glider flights are also really fun.”

Rising, a 16-year old home-schooled student, doesn’t have future military plans, instead aspiring to one day become a film director, but she has developed a number of skills during her four years in the program.

She has enjoyed the leadership and teamwork aspects of learning search and rescue skills, participating in Emergency Locator Transmitter recovery operations and ground team operations.

Cost for teens to participate is $31 annually, less than the cost of a single half-hour plane ride. The annual fee includes opportunities to get airborne and learn new skills. Recent cadets have used their training and scholarship opportunities well, including one now pursuing a commercial pilot’s license in Montana, and another recent cadet being accepted at West Point.

For adults to join the fees are a little higher and each must first pass a FBI background check to assure safety of the children involved in the cadet program.

For the upcoming Sentry Eagle festivities, CAP and Cadet Program members will be active on the base guiding VIPs, directing traffic and cleaning up the site. Community service is an important aspect of the Cadet Program training, and Sentry Eagle provides a unique opportunity for teens to interact directly with military pilots and crews while volunteering.

The Klamath Falls Composite Squadron meets at Kingsley Field Air Force Base every Thursday from 6:30-9 p.m. Interested teens for the Cadet Program or senior members should email KfallsCAP@gmail.com or visit www.orwghq.org for more information.

CAP history

The CAP’s roots trace back to 1941, when it appeared likely that the United States may eventually enter World War II. That concerned civilian pilots, who urged formation of CAP both as a means to help aid the war effort and to ensure that general aviation wouldn’t be eliminated from access to the skies. Founded on Dec. 1, 1941 and ironically chartered the day after the Pearl Harbor attacks when a nationwide no-fly order was implemented; the purpose of CAP was to patrol American coastlines watching for German submarines, which were wreaking havoc on American shipping.

Initially intended purely as non-combative observers relaying the location of enemy ships to military bombers, an incident off the coast of Florida in May, 1942 involving a German U-boat that had run aground on a sandbar but escaped before the bombers could arrive convinced the military to let the CAP carry ordinance. Small civilian planes were outfitted with depth charges and small bombs, and in July, 1942 a two-person CAP patrol successfully sunk a submarine.

During the war, CAP crews reported sightings of 173 German submarines, attacking 57 of them, and destroying two. They also played key roles in the rescue of ships in distress and aiding survivors, helping to rescue 363 victims of submarine attack. Eventually CAP stopped carrying bombs and returned to their observational role exclusively, but many CAP squadrons pay homage to these early days with an emblem of a small cartoon plane struggling to lift a heavy bomb.

Civil Air Patrol teams aided the war effort serving as convoy escorts, providing courier services, towing targets for anti-aircraft gunnery training, and military pilot training assistance. By the war’s end CAP crews had flown over 500,000 mission hours protecting American coasts and borders, and after the war the organization was transferred from U.S. Army to oversight of the newly formed USAF. While the organization will not serve in direct combat activities ever again, its Congressionally-mandated role remains nonetheless vital in service to both military and the general public.

Today Civil Air Patrol conducts 90 percent of all continental search and rescue flight operations, while leading the cadet program and conducting extensive community outreach. Its volunteers perform survey assessment of disaster areas, being the first in the air to take pictures following Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks. Many CAP aircraft are mounted with speakers and radio repeaters to provide warning information such as tsunami alerts along the coast, or relaying communications during search and rescue operations. Civil Air Patrol also fly missions in coordination with the military, simulating aircraft intercepts in restricted airspace.


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