Posted by: harrisonjones | June 26, 2011

Civil Air Patrol…Shadow Flight excerpt.

My novel, Shadow Flight, (July, 1 by BluewaterPressLLC) includes several scenarios involving the Civil Air Patrol. I have the greatest respect for this volunteer force and appreciate their devotion to aviation safety. Before reading the following excerpt, I want to remind you of the valuable services rendered by CAP. The organization was founded in 1941 by Congressional Act and provided coastal patrols throughout World War II. CAP is credited with sinking two German U-Boats and damaging many more. They are famous for their search and rescue missions, involving missing aircraft, but they are involved in many other important actions as well. The list  includes assisting Border Patrol; working with DEA in combating drug trafficking; interacting with the Forest Service; providing emergency services during natural disasters; assisting Homeland Security; and numerous other essential missions. CAP is very active in aerospace education and the Cadet Program, for youngsters between 12 and 18 years of age, insures that the aviation industry will be well staffed in the future. Enjoy the excerpt. 

Shadow Flight

At 8:20 the Cessna took off and turned to the southeast. Kyle activated the flight plan by radio as they climbed to 7500 feet on a direct course for Brownsville. They could not out climb the setting sun and soon the cockpit was  illuminated only by the dull glow of the instrument panel lights. Brooke was mesmerized by the hypnotic illusion of being suspended between the twinkling lights on the ground and the twinkling stars above them. 

            At 10:25 p.m. central time the FAA specialist at the San Angelo Flight Service Station picked up the phone and pushed the button that would connect him directly with the control tower at Brownsville-South Padre Island International Airport. The phone rang several times before a harried controller finally answered, “Tower, Nicolson speaking.”

            “Hey Nick, it’s Bill at San Angelo Flight Service. I’m looking for a Cessna November 3562 Echo. Did he close out a VFR flight plan with you guys?”

            “Hang on, let me check…man it’s nuts down here tonight…we’ve got a fur ball of airplanes in the pattern. No, I don’t have anything on him, Bill; we haven’t had any VFR closeouts in the last couple of hours. Was he landing here or one of the smaller airports?”

            “He was filed with you as the destination. He’s a little more than thirty minutes overdue.”

            “Wait one; I’ll see if we can raise him on tower frequency. What kind of airplane is it?”

            “A Cessna 172 squawking 1200.”

            A minute later the controller came back, “We tried him on approach and tower both with no response, but I’ve got plenty of 1200 VFR squawks on the screen, believe me.”

            “There’s a news flash. Okay Nick, I appreciate your help. If he shows up let me know right away.”

            “Will do, see ya.” 


The specialist had experienced many pilots forgetting to close out their flight plans, but he had a bad feeling about this one. He had taken the flight plan over the phone himself and the pilot seemed very professional and
experienced. He got out the notification list and started making phone calls. The first call went to the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, who would in turn notify the Texas Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, and the U.S. Coast Guard. State and local police were also notified to be on the lookout. They would all be actively searching for Cessna N3562E when the airplane’s fuel exhaustion time came and went two hours later.
         

            The first search and rescue briefing was scheduled for shortly after sun up at McLane Field. Roy McLane had been notified at eleven o’clock the night before and told that one of his airplanes was overdue at Brownsville. He had not been back to bed. He had taken off at midnight and flew to Brownsville and back in search of Kyle’s flight. He had seen nothing in the dark to indicate a crash site and repeated calls on the radio had gone unanswered. The Civil Air Patrol had flown a sortie during the night as had the Coast Guard.

            Roy had just finished brewing a pot of coffee when the first radio call came. “McLane Unicom, Coast Guard Rescue One-Four, five miles out for a straight in final, Runway Three-Three.”

            Roy picked up the mic, “Coast Guard One-Four, McLane, wind calm, no reported traffic.”

            Roy didn’t realize it was a helicopter until he heard the whop-whop of the rotor blades. He keyed the mic  again, “Coast Guard One-Four, we don’t have a designated helipad, but the grassy area beside the hangar is clear and flat.”

            “Roger sir, thank you.”

            Thirty seconds later the radio squawked again, “McLane Unicom, Cessna November Eight-Nine-Six-Three Charlie, five miles south.”

            Roy answered, “Cessna Six-Three Charlie, wind calm, suggest Runway Three-Three. There’s a helicopter on short final.”

            Roy walked out to watch the chopper land and then saw the Cessna with Civil Air Patrol markings touchdown and rollout. Ten minutes later the three Coast Guard crewmen and the two Civil Air Patrol pilots were gathered in the airport’s lounge and consuming Roy’s fresh coffee. Five minutes after that they were joined by the county sheriff and two state troopers. When everyone was introduced, Roy led them into the flight  school’s classroom. The room featured two long tables with chairs and a huge aeronautical chart on the wall.

            Roy said, “Gentlemen, I really don’t know where to start. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your being here and I want to do everything I can to help.”

            One of the state troopers spoke up, “The first thing we need to know, Mr. McLane, is who was on the airplane.”

            Roy answered, “The pilot is Kyle Bennett. He’s my flight instructor and charter pilot. He took one of his students along to fly copilot. Her name is Brooke Roberts and she’s the wife of Glenn Roberts, a well known local surgeon. Glenn is on his way home from Dallas. I called him last night with the bad news. The charter passenger is a Mr. Gomez.”

            Everyone was taking notes as Roy spoke and the trooper asked, “Do you have any information on Mr. Gomez?”

            “We require ID on all our passengers, but all I have is a copy of his driver’s license.”

            “Okay, I’ll need a copy of that too.”

            “I’ll make you a list of all their names, addresses and phone numbers.”

            “That would be great. All our troopers have been notified and are on the lookout for the airplane.”

            The sheriff spoke next, “All our deputies have been advised also.”

            One of the Civil Air Patrol pilots was the commander of the San Angelo squadron, “Mr. McLane, we have two airplanes in the air right now and more on the way. Each one will have at least one observer as well as the pilot. I want to get airborne again as soon as possible myself, but I need to go over the flight plan with you before I do.”

            “I’ll give you what information I can, sir.”

            “This is what the FAA gave us last night. The airplane is a red and white Cessna 172 equipped with a transponder. We assume he was squawking a code of 1200 for radar surveillance and had three souls on board. He reported off McLane Field at 8:20 local with an ETA at Brownsville of 9:53 local. He filed a cruise altitude of 7500 feet and a direct route to destination with a little over four hours of fuel on board.”

            Roy confirmed, “That’s all correct and I can tell you that Kyle is an excellent pilot. I can’t imagine what could have happened.”

            “I know the airplane is required to have an emergency locator transmitter, Mr. McLane. Do you know when it was last tested?”

            “We recently upgraded to a new model ELT with satellite capability. It transmits on all three emergency frequencies. The signal should have been picked up right away.”

            The Coast Guard pilot asked, “Did they have water survival gear aboard?”

            “No, we don’t usually carry the raft, unless it’s required, because of the extra weight. I’m sure Kyle didn’t plan on going out over the Gulf.”

            “I’m sure you’re right sir, but we’ll cover that possibility in our search just in case.”

            The CAP pilots were looking at the wall chart, “We’ll concentrate our search initially in the rural areas along and either side of a direct line between here and Brownsville. If they went down in a populated area someone would have reported it.”

            The sheriff said, “It should be pretty easy to spot something as big as an airplane.”

            The CAP commander answered, “We normally don’t look for something as big as an airplane, sheriff. A crash site usually looks like someone dumped a truck load of trash in the woods. Sometimes you can put most of the pieces in your pocket. It can be a pretty gruesome sight from the air, but our ground crews are the ones who suffer nightmares.”

            The sheriff replied, “I can relate to that. I know you folks are all volunteers and I appreciate what you do.”

            The pilots were anxious to get back in the air and after dividing the search area between the CAP and the Coast Guard, everyone prepared for a long and grueling day. Another CAP airplane arrived and delivered a ground coordinator who would remain at the airport with Roy to coordinate the search effort. The pilots would stay in touch and make their reports via radio or cell phone.

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