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!
|2d Lt Kat Allen and CAP453|
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
-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
-Have fun! There's no point to this training if you're
not enjoying yourself.
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.
|1st Lt Mike Allen and 1st Lt Lou Rivas discussing the Flight|
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.
|First Sortie refueling|
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.
|Taxing to the runway|
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.
|A reminder to check 121.5 for ELT's|
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
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
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
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.
Thank you Kate for the very good article you wrote. I hope other members see the advantage of participating in these activities so they can be ready for the real thing.ReplyDelete
Lt. Col. Juan Tinnirello, CAP