It was the type day that you’d want to be flying, low 70s with visibility improving on a late Saturday morning, October 16th. It seemed to have all the makings of a great day for flying. The conditions were some early autumn fog in Oakland and good conditions to the East across the foothills.
Capt Noel Luneau, MP, 2d Lt David Dunham, MO, and myself, 2d Lt Patrick Bitz, MS, met at the Squadron HQ for the preflight briefing and tabletop planning. As quarter Grids 237A and 237C had been preselected, Lt Dunham and I redrew the grids with high points and prominent terrain, checked our Lat/Long points of entry, and search pattern. We briefed time and fuel, weight and balance and weather.
|Completing the Preflight Inspection|
The Contour search is what we planned for and to further educate, the following is a quick reference from the CAP Mission Aircrew Reference Text, Volume 2 - Mission Pilot/Mission Observer Rev. Apr 10:
|Mount Diablo up close|
As you may have already gathered, the contour search pattern can be dangerous. The following must be kept in mind before and during a contour search:
• First and foremost, the pilot and crew must be qualified for mountain flying and proficient.
• The crew should be experienced in flying contour searches, well briefed on the mission procedures, and have accurate, large-scale maps indicating the contour lines of the terrain."
|Odd looking ridge|
Once in grid we reduced our speed to 90 knots and viewed this mighty East Bay landmark up close as we never have before. Very good terrain contrast, green and golden, much of the foliage was sparse, allowing us to see through the trees to the floor of the mountain. Mt. Diablo appears to have just one improved hard surface road on the western side winding to the top and meeting the observation tower. The sides of the mountain are sprinkled with small ranches, the access road in these areas appear marginal, and the landscape in general has very little erosion. The North and East sides are rugged and the Southern side has a gentler slope with odd looking rocky Stonehenge like figures that are amazingly beautiful.
|Returning to Oakland|
Capt Luneau’s MP skills gave us the confidence we needed to the enjoy this flight through amazingly rugged terrain. After the practice search we headed south from Mt. Diablo to the Livermore airport for a few touch and go’s, then back to Oakland for debriefing.
The East Bay is a great place to fly, offering great terrain to practice and perfect our CAP Search skills.
I would encourage and strongly suggest to any CAP Aircrew to practice the search patterns as often as we can. Not only will that improve our skills, it will add to being successful within the CAP SAR expectations.
2d Lt Bitz is Squadron 188's Aerospace Education Officer and is a qualified Mission Scanner.
Images courtesy of 2d Lt Pat Bitz.