Tahoe-Truckee Civil Air Patrol Squadron supports military aviation preparedness 

Submitted to the Sun

On August 4th a four person crew from the Civil Air Patrol’s Tahoe-Truckee squadron conducted a survey mission to identify and locate obstacles along 220 miles of a training route that’s used by military pilots to help them hone and maintain their high-speed, low-level flying skills.   

Mission Commander and CAP Captain Dan Beadle from Incline Village, and CAP pilots Robert Eyre from Truckee, Charles Lewis from Tahoe City and Jack Ellis from Tahoe City spent the day flying the squadron’s Cessna T-206 to look for wind farms, electric power lines and towers, communications antennas and any other manmade obstacles along a portion of the route that started just southwest of Winnemucca, curved northeast to just south of Battle Mountain, and then turned southeast, ending near Eureka.  The total distance flown that day was over 900 miles. 

CAP is an adjunct of the US Air Force, which owns all of CAP’s airplanes.  The CAP Cessna 206 that’s based and flown out of the Truckee-Tahoe airport is a piston powered, propeller driven general aviation airplane with a very cool paint job and a few extra gadgets for emergency services missions like finding downed airplanes and lost travelers.     

The Air Force likes using CAP airplanes for conducting low-level surveys of these military training routes (MTRs) because the crews are all volunteers, and the airplanes are much less costly to operate than anything else the military flies.  CAP air crews look forward to these missions because they provide an important service to our men and women in uniform.  CAP pilots also get an opportunity to employ flying skills they wouldn’t ordinarily use when flying for business or pleasure. 

The crew for this mission included a pilot, who is responsible for flying the airplane safely; a co-pilot who helps the pilot with communication, navigation, terrain-spotting and monitoring chores; and two scanners in the back who look for various kinds of obstructions and direct the pilot to overfly them in order to take photographs and accurately capture and record the location.  

CAP requires its air crews to use a concept pioneered by the airlines called Crew Resource Management (CRM) that requires all crew members to be actively engaged in all aspects of the flight, call out any safety concerns, and work together during all phases of flight.  It’s all about teamwork.  Pilots who want to fly in the left seat first have to master all of the tasks required for the two crew positions (co-pilot, or mission observer, and scanner).  On this mission there were three legs to fly and crew members took turns working the pilot, co-pilot and scanner positions. 

The day started at 6:00 AM by pre-flighting the airplane, which includes inspecting the airplane inside and out for required documentation and making sure everything that can be seen or tested on the ground, like lighting and the airplane’s electronics, looks and operates as it should.   

Next the crew conducted a briefing to discuss forecast weather, routing, terrain, what kinds of obstructions to look for, fuel requirements and fuel stops, cruising speed and altitude to and from the survey area, communications with CAP Incident Command and air traffic control, the need to stay hydrated, and contingency plans. Then the crew boarded the airplane, started the engine, and taxied to the runway where they conducted pre-takeoff-checks of the engine and aircraft electronics before departing into an unexpectedly hazy sky toward Stead airport on their way to the starting point of their MTR survey assignment. 

It’s the terrain in California and Nevada that makes both the surveys and military training missions so challenging.  The mission rules required them to fly surveys at between 115 and 130 mph and to stay about 1000 feet above the ground, while the military aircraft that train on this route may be flying as low as 200 feet off the ground at speeds of up to 500 miles per hour.   

Military aircraft have enough power to easily pop up over ridge tops whereas the aircraft might have to circle while climbing ahead of a steep ridge so they can be close enough to pick up obstacles on the sides of a ridge and then top it.  On the way down they had to set up ear-popping rates of descent with the engine throttled way back and use the wing flaps to keep the speed down while also staying close to the terrain.   

The pilot has to constantly manage engine power, cooling, flaps and trim while the co-pilot looks for emergency landing spots and double-checks engine settings and control positions.  It’s quite a physical and mental workout, made only slightly easier with help from the airplane’s sophisticated autopilot system.  They had to examine both sides of a ten-mile-wide corridor, flying a 2.5 mile offset from the MTR centerline in one direction, and then flying a 2.5 mile offset on the other side of the centerline in the reverse direction. 

On this survey the crew didn’t find any new obstacles but did share the sky with hungry raptors and also solved a mystery about one of the existing obstacles on the route.  It turns out there’s a power line crossing that’s shown on the obstacle chart 453 feet above the ground.  Previous survey flights had identified it as a tower in the middle of nowhere.   

Recently, the CAP radio station at the Truckee-Tahoe airport that allows CAP aircraft and ground teams to talk with mission base staff at the airport was reactivated, and with cadets in the radio room to practice ground-to-air communications with the aircraft once the team exited the MTR and were on the way back to Truckee.  That team included cadet Senior Airmen John Schumacher and Max Battaglia with support from CAP Senior Member Maggie Schumacher and Capt. Bob Auguste, all from Truckee.  Although they’re part of a national organization, the team is tasked with serving the local community first and so it’s important that they be able to conduct emergency services operations from the airport without having to rely on our nearby companion squadrons in Reno, Minden, Carson City and Auburn.  Getting cadets in the radio room to gain practical experience and hone their communications skills is part of this effort. 

If you’re an adult and want to learn more about what Tahoe-Truckee Civil Air Patrol Squadron does and how you can get involved, join for a meeting the second and fourth Thursday of every month starting at 6 p.m. in the lower lobby of the airport administration building.  No aviation background or experience is necessary. The team will teach you what you need to know.  If you’re between 12 and 21 and are interested in the cadet programs, that group meets every Thursday starting at 6 p.m. in the EAA building next to the control tower.  You can also contact Capt. Dan Beadle, Tahoe-Truckee Composite Squadron Recruiting and Retention officer, at 775-544-6161 for more information. 

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