Monday, March 21, 2011

Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Fallout – Northeast Japan, March 2011

SAR activities are underway
Follow up at month three -- post tragedy in Japan, the link to the Daily Mail Online is Here.  We at Civil Air Patrol should study as much as we can about the excellent response to the Tsunami from our counterparts in Japan.

Additionally, the nuclear aspect of the event also appears to within control.  Their response was as good as it gets.


We are all aware of the incredible devastation that Japan has endured from the 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami on Friday, 11 March 2011. The resultant tsunami caused the most amount of damage as evidenced by the photo link from ABC below.  When you look at the pictures you can review the before and after contrast by floating your cursor over the individual pictures.  The link is at the ABC site located 

As a result of the tsunami, the Fukushima I and II nuclear power plant crisis has been the most precarious aspect to manage.  The earthquake/tsunami has most likely caused the most serious known breach of a nuclear power plant.  The situation remains very much a minute to minute event unfolding in real time as up to six reactors have been compromised, with the most serious being reactor 3 as it runs on highly toxic mixed uranium and plutonium oxide.  

In March of 2008, I had the privilege of visiting Japan for nearly two weeks.  While visiting, it quickly became evident that Japan was seemingly, very well prepared for these type of disasters, quite possibly even more so than us in America.  The Japanese people are incredibly and impressively orderly as well as organized and the nation has a civil defense force that I saw in action doing drills near Hakone (not far from Tokyo).  As Japan has no formal military due to Article 9 in their constitution, they rely exclusively upon what is known as the “Japan Self-Defense Forces” or JDSF.  Their commensurate  arm of this to our USAF is known as the Japan Air Self Defense Force, or JASDF.

Destruction at the Fukushima Nuclear Power site
Currently the JASDF is pouring water over the breached nuclear power plant reactors in a dire attempt to cool down the reactors and the spent rods pool.  They are utilizing water drops from helicopters to prevent further nuclear fallout as radiation leakage has already happened.  Now it is a race to curtail that leakage as best as possible.  All branches of the JDSF, and numerous Search and Rescue agencies are working feverishly to recover the deceased and make as many rescues as possible of which there have already been some miraculous ones.  At this point in time the situation is bleak, and there is seemingly an indefinite amount of work to do.  102 countries of the world have offered their assistance to Japan, however a signal of how much Japan has their act together is that they have declined the overwhelming majority offered, accepting the help of only 15 nations.  Perhaps because Japan is a first world nation, they have not requested any money.

Tsunami flooding on the Sendai airport runway
In time, we will be better able to study the response as this crisis winds down.  For now, let us closely monitor the situation and learn as much as we can, as such events are just not possible to prepare for.  American's have a lot to learn from the Japanese as they are responding well and as best as could ever be expected or hoped for.  If nothing else good comes of it, we should review the results of their efforts to address areas wherein we can improve our readiness should we ever be called into action on a scale greater than exceeds our training.

Captain Anuruddh Kumar Misra is SQ188's Health Services Officer and is a Medical Doctor.
Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Livermore SAREX - 12-13 March

Livermore Airport Terminal, Tower and the 40' CAP antenna
Last Sunday I participated in the Group 2 Livermore SAREX at the Livermore Airport (LVK). This was a two day weekend event where many of the participants such as I are trainees. I participated on  Sunday as a Mission Pilot trainee preparing for my Form 91 check out. The Form 91 is an oral and practical exam given by a CAP Mission Pilot check pilot prior to earning the Mission Pilot rating. See the Presidents Day blog postings for more information about the Mission Pilot training.

We were short one aircraft on Sunday, so my task was to drive up to Gnoss Field Airport (DVO) and fly Squadron 23's Cessna-206, callsign CAP 450 down to LVK, fly the sorties and then return to DVO.  There were several sorties scheduled for the Sunday and the deteriorating weather was becoming a factor.  Rain was forecasted for 2:00 PM and I wanted to be airborne back to DVO no later than 1:00 PM.

3 of 5 CAP airplanes at the SAREX
The preflight and weather briefing took a little longer than expected and I was wheels up by 8:30. My 20 minute flight from DVO to LVK was a short flight eastward along the shore of San Pablo Bay followed by a turn southward through the San Ramon Valley and on towards the Livermore airport. 

After landing I quickly secured CAP 450 and hustled into the terminal building and checked in. The crew briefings were underway and soon found out my crew assignment and search scenario. My squadron commander was going to be my Mentor Pilot, and 1st Lt Dave Montgomery and Paul Barrett were going to be the Mission Scanners.

In Grid
The mission for my SAREX scenario was to search in grid SFO 210D (Discovery Bay) for a Cessna 150 which had not arrived at his destination after a flight from San Carlos to Sacramento Executive. We performed the necessary preflight procedures such as direction of flight; identify any hazards to flight, risk assessments and the weight and balance.  Believe it or not the preflight procedures easily take an hour and sometimes longer. This time it took longer, but we were wheels up shortly before noon.

The skies were overcast and there was light rain as we crossed over the hills north-eastward into the central valley.  The central valley is a great place to practice, the terrain is flat and level, and the roads run in a north/south and east/west direction. This makes it easy for the pilot to identify key roads and use them as landmarks and boundaries.  We first flew our search grid at 2000 feet to identify the corners, and then I descended to 1000 feet and flew a parallel search (think rows) from west to east. 

Byron Airport
After our search grid, we headed direct to Byron  Airport and landed.  We had been directed to land there by the Incident Commander and to not check in with base as required. The purpose of this was to test the base staff trainees and see if they would notice that CAP450 had failed to check in and was missing. Aircrews are required to check in (OPS Normal) at the top and bottom of the hour, we did neither. I am happy to report we weren't on the ground 10 minutes before our cell phones were ringing.

I answered my cell phone and the person on the other end was none too happy with us. He wasn’t rude but he was perturbed. I quickly passed the phone to my Commander and let him deal with it. In my eyes the base staff trainees passed the test. We were then ordered to return to base and off we went.

CAP 450 aircrew
The debriefing for our sortie by the Air Operations Branch Director went well. We didn’t find the the missing Cessna 150 but we did provide information about the deteriorating weather, visibility and search conditions. Our INTEL was useful because the Incident Commander was able to discern that a second sortie was not going to be an option.

The weather over DVO also precluded me from returning CAP 450 to DVO, rats! This meant I needed to arrange a ride with my good buddies to drive me the 65 miles in the rain from LVK to DVO. Fortunately this was not a problem and the CO Capt Jeff Ironfield and the XO Capt Noel Luneau, graciously offered me the ride.

All in all, I found the Livermore SAREX to be very well organized, the LVK staff friendly, and the facilities were perfect.  

1st Luis Rivas is SQ188's Assistant Public Affairs Officer and is a Mission Pilot trainee

Images Courtesy of Capt Noel Luneau, Capt Gary Cinnamon, and 2d Lt Gabriel Fletcher-Hernandez

Tsunami - California Coast Mission

Strong waves approaching Santa Cruz
A CAWG all request was received early Friday morning for crews to perform recon missions for the Tsunami threat at the request of the California Emergency Management Agency (CalEMA). The initial response was to fly CAP453 with Mission Pilot (MP) Capt. Suter and Mission Observer (MO) 1st Lt. Andruss, both of Squadron 44. CAP453 which is normally located at either Concord or Oakland had been relocated to Livermore during the overnight hours as a result of the Tsunami threat.

While the crew was enroute to the plane, Capt. Luneau was also added to the mission. We all reported to the Livermore Airport Terminal. After arriving we were instructed to standby for a mission assignment. During the downtime at Livermore, 2nd Lt. Perreira of the Oakland Squadron stopped in Livermore and said that he really wished there was another seat. 1st Lt. Andruss, had some personal business to attend to, so they swapped.

2d Lt Perreira - MO

The final crew consisted of Mission Pilot (MP) Capt. Suter, Mission Observer (MO) Capt. Luneau and Mission Scanner (MS) 2nd Lt. Pereira. Our mission assignment was to fly to the Golden Gate Bridge and then fly south to Monterey following the coast and taking pictures of any significant damage observed. This included every turn in the coastline, and as a result the flight time was considerably longer than flying in a direct line. 

We flew a normal mission profile at 1000 feet and 90 knots. During the flight we observed significant wave action and a large amount of bottom disturbance in the ocean, but very minimal damage to the coastline. Each harbor and significant infrastructure was examined in some detail, although the significant damage in Santa Cruz was not observed, since it was somewhat inland from the coast. The harbor in the ocean did not appear to sustain any significant damage. 

NorCal Approach was extremely cooperative in allowing transition Class Bravo at 3,500 feet direct to the Golden Gate Bridge.  They also allowed us to maneuver even within the Airport Traffic Area of Monterey with no restrictions which really aided in the prosecution of this mission. 

Landing at Oakland Airport

After turning around at the point at Pacific Grove, we returned northbound past Santa Cruz and then flew directly to Oakland Airport, where we downloaded the photos and debriefed the mission.  Subsequent to that we returned to Livermore. While the actual mission flight time was 3 hours, total time was about 12 hours, which included crew standby, flight preparation, the actual flight and post-flight debriefing.

This was a great example of the varied types of missions that the Civil Air Patrol performs for many government agencies throughout the nation.

Capt Chris Suter is an officer in Squadron 44 and is a qualified Mission Pilot.

Images courtesy of Capt Noel Luneau and 2d Lt Doug Perreira

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Presidents' Day, Part II: My First Cessna Flight

2d Lt Kat Allen and CAP453
Of the five people who participated in the two air sorties on President's Day, I was the only one who had never taken a flight in a light-weight aircraft before.  I was briefed thoroughly on what would take place in flight: I would practice scanning techniques, take notes, operate the aircraft communications equipment to stay in touch with Oakland base, and keep my eyes up for oncoming aircraft.  I would also be asked to search for a white Bronco.  The familiarization and preparatory work was done: now I just needed to survive the flight!

My husband and fellow CAP member, 1st Lt Mike Allen, helped me prepare that morning.  His pointers went something like this:

-Wear the proper CAP uniform.  (Since it was a C Mission, the navy CAP polo and grey slacks sufficed.)
-Don't eat much before the flight.  The turbulence in a Cessna is a lot more noticeable than the turbulence you'd feel on a commercial flight.
-Bring a sealable plastic bag in case you get air-sick, because no one--including you--wants to smell your vomit from three thousand feet all the way home!
-Bring your camera for pictures, bottled water for hydration, and granola bars for energy.
-Print your current 101 card and make sure you've got your CAP ID.
-Have fun!  There's no point to this training if you're not enjoying yourself.

1st Lt Mike Allen and 1st Lt Lou Rivas discussing the Flight
When we arrived at the unit, my husband and four-month-old daughter assumed supervisory roles as I gathered with the other sortie members for pre-flight preparation.  We mapped out on paper the grid where we would be flying, noting landmarks at the corners and other noticeable features around the grid.  One of our pilots also called in for weather reports so we could figure out where the cloud deck was and how high we could safely fly.  One particularly amusing moment came when we had to calculate weight and balance.  One by one, the members of each sortie were asked to call out their current weight.  I was the last one to be asked.  1st Lt. Luis Rivas quietly edged away from me as Capt. Noel Luneau walked over and whispered the question about my weight.  "How funny to be the only woman in a bunch like this," I thought, and I called out my weight so the whole room could hear.  Fudging the number would have been unsafe, and I was not about to put my life or theirs in jeopardy over my post-pregnancy pounds.  My announcement let loose a ripple of laughter to break the ice, and we moved on to other details.

First Sortie refueling
As the first sortie took flight, Lt. Rivas and I took turns operating the radio.  This was also a first for me; I had never gone "live" on the radios to interact with an air sortie before.  "CAP 453 to Oakland Base, over?"  I looked around; no one was nearby to take my place.  They called again.  I took a deep breath, sat down by the radio, picked up the microphone, and spoke.  "CAP 453 this is Oakland Base, go ahead."  They reported that they were engine start and would call back to base when they were wheels up.  When I finally heard "CAP 453, out," I set down the mic and sighed with relief, then hurried over to the computer so I could download a list of CAP prowords as a refresher.

Taxing to the runway
When the first sortie returned to base, Lt. Rivas and I were gathering our gear together. While Capt. Luneau sat in on the debrief with 1st Lt. Allen and the other members of the first sortie, Lt. Rivas and I walked out onto the airport, and I experienced yet another first: setting foot on the OAK Tarmac.  Lt. Rivas suggested that I climb into my seat while he examined the plane.  I looked at the controls in front and took out my camera.  It wasn't long before we were all buckled in and ready to move.  Capt. Luneau read off a checklist for Lt. Rivas, and the call was made to the Oakland tower requesting permission to depart.  The bounce of the Cessna as we rolled along surprised me, but I breathed deeply, steadying myself.  Pretty soon we were in the air, ascending and heading eastward towards SFO grid 238-B.

A reminder to check 121.5 for ELT's
Imagine our surprise when we checked 121.5, only to hear the familiar whirring of a distress beacon come over the airwaves!  A live ELT?  My eyes and Capt. Luneau's were glued to the direction-finding equipment; it pointed us southeast, toward Livermore.  Capt. Luneau communicated with Oakland base and 1st Lt Allen began the process of getting an AFRCC mission opened.  The distress signal ceased within minutes, however (perhaps the pilot of the plane heard us on the radio or saw our red/white/blue plane overhead and scurried over to check her/his ELT!), and we ended up turning back toward SFO grid 238-B.  

Grid SFO238B
After that, it was a standard grid search.  We boxed the grid, flying from corner to corner to corner, and then utilized the creeping line method to cover the rest of the grid.  I settled into the task of systematic scanning, moving my eyes in an upward invisible line, looking for unusual objects as well as our search objective, the white Bronco.  Once I spotted a white Bronco (or at least what appeared to be a white Bronco), I snapped a picture with my camera, noting our altitude, direction, the time, and our location in my flight log.  Toward the end of the flight, I took the opportunity to call in "ops normal!" to Oakland base.  

All in all, the flight was uneventful in the best sense, and fun was had by all.  Lt. Rivas piloted skillfully, and both he and Capt. Luneau maintained a contagiously reassuring calm, even when my stomach was doing somersaults during our thirty degree banks.

We landed safely at OAK with the sun falling on the horizon.  I had 238 pictures, my final two Mission Scanner SQTR task sign-offs, and an unused plastic baggie as my first-flight reward.

A few of my photos from this flight can be found at

2d Lt Kate Allen is Squadron 188's Assistant Finance Officer and is training for Mission Scanner rating.

Images courtesy of 2d Lt Kate Allen.

Presidents' Day Sorties, Part I

On Presidents Day, Squadron 188 members were involved in unfunded aircrew flying training.  The goal was to train and sign off tasks for Mission Pilot Trainees and Mission Scanner Trainees.  In attendance were 1Lt Mike Allen – Supervisor, Capt Noel Luneau – Mission Pilot Mentor, Capt Frank Reibli – Mission Pilot Trainee, 1Lt Luis Rivas – Mission Pilot Trainee, 2Lt Kate Allen – Mission Scanner Trainee, SM Alex Kaplan - Mission Scanner Trainee, and pre-cadet Anastasia Allen - Alerting Officer.

We arrived at Squadron 188 for classroom instruction at 9:30 am.  Our first order of business was discussing how to plan a search using older techniques such as the Delorme, and more modern techniques using Google Maps, and Google Earth.  The  trainees were introduced to CAP Gridmaster, a web based application produced by the Washington state Plaine Field Squadron.  The application provides a method to enter the desired grid by sectional and grid name, as in SFO 238B.  The grid is then represented by Lat and Lon and a Google Terrain Map is displayed with a bounding box representing the grid.  

There is an option to display the grid full browser in Google Terrain, Satellite view, or Google Earth view.  This is a very helpful feature, as the Satellite view and Google Earth allow you to focus in on the grid, visualize the four corners, and identify landmarks of interest.  Utilizing this visual representation of the grid greatly increases situational awareness prior to launching the sortie.

A nearby grid - SFO 238B, was selected to reduce our flight time and maximize the time in the grid.  Grid SFO 238B is just North of Byron,  and encompasses Discovery Bay and an portion of the Delta.

Capt Reibli  and SM Kaplan took the first sortie and were briefed by Lt Mike Allen to identify a white Ford Bronco with a light bar.  After a through pre-flight CAP453 with the three of us aboard took-off from Oakland and headed North-East toward Byron and grid SFO 238B.

We noted that the weather conditions were superb with excellent flight and search visibility and scattered/broken clouds at 3,200 feet.  Our aim during this flight was to sign-off SQTR's for all involved aircrew and to introduce the Parallel search technique to Capt Reibli.  The technique for the first mentored searches are to have the trainee pilot perform the entire search visually, concentrating on maximum visual scan and situational awareness.  The GPS is only used to assist in identifying the four corners of the grids.

We completed the grid search and identified and took a picture of a white Bronco in Discovery Bay.  We then returned to Oakland and prepared to switch crews.

The second sortie was with Lt Rivas, and Lt Kate Allen.  See the Presidents' Day, Part II by Lt Kate Allen for her impressions of her first flight.
The rest of our search was uneventful and 1Lt Rivas practiced both visual and GPS assisted search techniques,  After the search concluded we returned to Oakland to put the plane away and cleanup the base.

After each sortie, Lt Mike Allen debriefed the trainees while I engaged in bio breaks.

A special thank you to Lt Mike Allen and Anastasia for supervising the training.

There are some more pictures of the training activities here:

Capt Luneau is Squadron 188's Deputy Commander and is a qualified Mission Pilot.

Images courtesy of Capt Noel Luneau and 2d Lt Kate Allen.