Eyes in the sky
The phone rang at Robert Todd’s house at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, Aug. 8, and the Office of Emergency Services was on the other end of the line.
An airplane had gone down and Todd was asked to investigate a signal that had been picked up by satellite.
When the signal couldn’t be detected from the ground, Todd and Scott Kennedy were in the air in their Cessna 182 by daybreak, and found the downed plane of Doyle John Bourchers III two miles north of Incline Village within 40 minutes of flying, Todd said.
The plane recovery was typical of the work volunteers Todd, Kennedy and other members of the Tahoe-Truckee Composite Squadron do as part of a national, volunteer-based auxiliary of the Air Force known as the Civil Air Patrol.
As the primary entity for finding downed aircraft, the local squadron ” a part of the Nevada wing ” face up to their duties in the particularly challenging terrain and weather conditions of the Sierra Nevada.
Last year, the Civil Air Patrol ran the famous search for millionaire adventurer Steve Fossett who disappeared after taking off from a private airstrip near the town of Gardnerville, Nev.
“The thing about the Civil Air Patrol is we generally find what we are looking for,” said Robert Auguste, who logged 40 hours in the air looking for the millionaire. “Fossett was an anomaly.”
Searching over 10,000 square miles, Todd said among both government and private search parties backed by money from names like Hilton and Branson, the Civil Air Patrol was the only group to find anything. Volunteers from the organization found six other downed aircraft during the search, two of which were undiscovered.
“We are good at what we do,” Todd said. “Why didn’t we find Steve Fossett? I think it was because he wasn’t there.”
Thursday evening, clad in camouflage and flight suits, the local members of the Civil Air Patrol were at it again, this time training for a disaster scenario with a plane in the air and a crew on the ground searching for a fictional downed helicopter.
But emergency services are only one part of their program ” aerospace education and training young cadets are given equal emphasis, Todd said.
“I enjoy being in the Civil Air Patrol, it has many things to offer,” said 19-year-old Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Kaijah Hougham. “I want to get into the space part of aerospace, and this has shown me a lot of opportunities.”
While Todd said some people are skeptical about the group and the cadet program because of its military outward appearance, he said their purpose isn’t preparing youth for military service.
“They learn leadership for the future, for their community, for business, and if they choose, for the military,” Todd said.
“The Civil Air Patrol started as a service in World War II as a coastline defense,” said Russell Tatro, in charge of standardization and evaluation for the Tahoe-Truckee Composite Squadron. “But we do not carry weapons any more.”
In 1946, President Harry Truman established the group as a federally chartered civilian corporation, and congress passed it into public law in 1948.
Today, there are 52 wings with about 1,700 units and over 61,000 members flying more than 4,000 aircraft.
Many members come from a military background looking for a venue for service, Tatro said.
“Obviously there’s the aviation side,” said Kevin Bumen, who also works at the airport, of why he joined. “But it combines aviation with community service, which is the best of the best.”
Go to http://www.cap-ttcs.org or call 587-6048 to learn more.