Bothell, WA - On Saturday, about a dozen local CAP air cadets conducted a practice air search-and-rescue training mission.
The Civil Air Patrol routinely conducts emergency services training missions for their adult volunteers. On Saturday, however, the adults stepped aside and gave the cadets the opportunity to plan, organize, and carry out the training mission on their own.
The cadets, all young men and women between 12 and 18, had received in-class and online training during the weeks before the event, and were well-prepared to deal with the assignment — as well as with several unexpected situations that arose.
Several experienced CAP pilots were also on-hand to observe their progress, answer questions, and to provide an overall evaluation at the close of the day.
The Mission Begins
At 1000, the cadets assembled at the mission base (a classroom at Northshore Squadron headquarters). The Incident Commander, Cadet Airman Russell Combs, briefed his team on the mission:
"At 0200 this morning, a silver American Airlines 727 jet departed Paine Field airport for the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. A flight plan was filed. The plane was due to land at 0230 and never arrived. Twenty people were onboard."
The cadets in the Planning Section got to work and conducted a mock telephone survey of nearby airports, while the cadet aircrews began planning their sorties. Within an hour, the search planes were launched.
Cadets Pilot The Search Planes
In order to let the cadets (ages 12-18) to fly the search planes, the mission used personal computers running specially configured flight simulator software. Each flight simulator was placed in a separate classroom, and connected to a projector.
The flight simulator software had been augmented with realistic downed aircraft as well as search planes modeled after actual CAP search aircraft. Each two-cadet flight crew used standard CAP search procedures and communications protocols to "fly" the missions.
In the weeks before the mission, the cadet aircrew members trained on their own flight simulator programs, studying a Civil Air Patrol Mission Pilot training curriculum that had been modified for flight simulators.
Cadet Ground Search Teams
Meanwhile, in the rainy fields surrounding the classrooms, another team of cadets practiced using UDF equipment.
UDF (Urban Direction Finder) equipment is a handheld radio receiver that is designed to receive and track ELT signals (aviation homing beacons).
During the UDF exercises, an instructor hides a brick-sized homing beacon somewhere in the surrounding fields. Armed with the UDF equipment, the cadets track, locate and deactivate the beacon.
Dealing With The Unexpected
In addition to observing and evaluating the cadets' performance, the adult CAP aircrew members added several surprise situations:
- During a critical juncture of the search for the downed jet, the parent of one of the jet's passengers stormed into the operations center, arms waving, and frantically demand information on the status of her son. (The parent was realistically played by a CAP aircrew member who has dealt with many similar situations.)
- Later that day, one of the search planes developed engine problems, forcing the cadet pilots to make an emergency landing.
- At another point, the second search plane lost its radio. The cadet aircrew had to deal with the problem while continuing to fly the aircraft.
To make the training mission as real as possible, each surprise situation was based real-life incidents that the adult aircrew members had experienced.
By the close of the day, the exhausted cadet aircrew and ground search teams returned to the mission base, having successfully located every practice target. They learned quite a bit about search-and-rescue operations, and also had a quite lot of fun.
Based in Bothell, the Northshore Composite Squadron is currently the only CAP squadron that offers this type of hands-on training to cadets.
The Civil Air Patrol cadet program has been developing young men and women into dynamic and responsible leaders for more than fifty years. CAP cadets fly, hike, camp, train, get in shape, learn to lead, push themselves to new limits, and have a lot of fun. For more information (or to volunteer), visit our squadron web site or our Facebook page.