Monday, February 20, 2012

My first “Real” Mission as a MS Trainee

2d Lt Mark Vikse
Mission Scanner Trainee
Amelia Earhart Senior Squadron 188
California Wing

OAKLAND, CA - Early on a blustery Saturday morning on 20 January 2012, I was awakened by a phone call from 1st Lt Louie Rivas informing me that “multiple ELT’s are going off in the bay area around Oakland”.  Was I available?  And more importantly, could I drive over to Squadron 188 on short notice to meet with Mission Pilot, Capt Noel Luneau to scramble for this mission? 

Yes!!  Finally, this was my 1st opportunity to apply what I had learned as a Mission Scanner trainee in class at Squadron 188 and apply it in a “real world” ELT search.  I grabbed my flight jacket, boots, some water, and my sunglasses, and Lou and I headed for the squadron.  Since I was driving, Lou was coordinating via cell phone with both Incident Commander, 1st Lt.Mike Allen, and Capt Luneau.  When we arrived, Noel had already obtained the current weather briefing and had completed the pre-flight inspection of the CAP aircraft.

With Noel in the left seat, Lou as Mission Observer in right seat, and me in the back seat we departed Oakland to the North to begin the search.  Shortly after takeoff we all heard a very faint ELT “whoop whoop”, (See below to hear the distinctive sound of the ELT) which just as quickly faded away.  We then flew along the Oakland hills southbound staying in close communication with our ground Base at SQ 188.  Not hearing any more sounds, we continued to search over the Oakland area and were cleared to climb around the clouds to 10,000ft to expand our range.  Still nothing, so we then headed towards Stockton, Modesto area checking in every 30 minutes with our ground crew.

After hunting the ELT in the Central Valley, we continued north following the hills and then traversing back towards Oakland.  At the same time, another CAP flight crew from San Jose Squadron were performing a search for the ELT in the South Bay, coordinating with Mike Allen and our aircraft.

In addition, multiple CAP ground crews were also scouring the bay area to help locate this ELT.  In fact, 2d Lt Gabriel Fletcher-Hernandez from Squadron 188 also worked with the Manager of the Oakland airport driving the perimeter of Oakland International. They searched for the ELT to ensure it was not located in a hanger or on the premises.

In the end, we heard a brief ELT twice during the almost 3 hours of searching.  Unfortunately, the signal did not transmit long enough to localize.  However, some valuable lessons I learned and things reinforced include:

1.    There is nothing like a real mission to test and reinforce your skills
2.    Proper communication techniques and verbiage need to be practiced within the aircrew and between aircrews and ground teams to become comfortable
3.    Observe sterile cockpit during takeoff, landing, and other critical times.
4.    All members of aircrew are responsible to look for and report any other air traffic or other dangers
5.    Final review and debrief of mission from IC afterwards is critical to learn and improve for future missions.
6.    Be prepared to be gone from home longer than you anticipate!

- Images courtesy of 2d Lt Mark Vikse

• Pictures from the flight are located here.
• Video - YouTube Audio of an actual ELT signal is below.