Monday, November 22, 2010

Mount Diablo Search

Cessna 182
By 2d Lt Patrick Bitz.

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 weather briefing indicated light WNW wind, light windward up drafts and possible stronger down drafts leeward.  The plan was to safely test the actual Mt Diablo wind speed in the aircraft and manage our distance to the mountain based on the velocity.  Capt Luneau said that his turns today would always be away from the mountain and that caution would be required in the leeward side if the winds got stronger.  

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
"The contour search pattern is best adapted to searches over mountainous or hilly terrain. When using this pattern, the pilot initiates the search at the highest peak over the terrain. As in the case of mountains, the pilot flies the aircraft around the highest peak "tucked in" closely to the mountainside. As each contour circuit is completed the pilot lowers the search altitude, usually by 500 feet. While descending to a lower altitude, the pilot turns the aircraft 360º in the direction opposite to the search pattern.

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
After briefing with the crew, completing our Operational Risk Management matrix, and IMSAFE, we all headed out to the plane for the walk-around inspection. Winds were calm and the conditions were flawless.  Rising above Oakland looking East, no comment required, sterile cockpit, we could see and feel that we were in for a great couple of hours of proficiency flying.  The visibility was excellent as we approached Mt Diablo from the West.

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
We did experience some turbulence leeward but we were able to complete the contour search pattern and finish with a flight over the top and down a sloping Northern canyon ending past a rock quarry.

Capt Luneau’s MP skills gave us the confidence we needed to the enjoy this flight through amazingly rugged terrain.  After the practice search w
e 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.

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