Bothell, WA - More than 35 Civil Air Patrol cadets from throughout Western Washington converged on the Northshore Composite Squadron on Saturday, November 17 to participate in another All-Cadet SAREX.
A SAREX (Search-and-Rescue Exercise) is typically a day-long training event for CAP adult members. This year, the Northshore squadron broke that mold by creating a series of SAREXes staffed entirely by cadets.
Through the use of flight simulators with specially configured scenery, the cadets were also able to participate as search pilots. This SAREX used three simulated search aircraft.
Before the start of the mission, SAREX coordinator Captain Charles Jackson hid several realistic targets in the flight simulator scenery. He gave the coordinates to several (adult) aircrew advisers, who selected a target, created a realistic mission objective, and developed a set of interesting and challenging clues to give to the cadet search teams.
By 9 am, more than two dozen cadets from as far away as Burlington and Olympia had reported to the SAREX Mission Base. The Cadet Incident Commander, C/2Lt Bradley Steinike of Mill Creek, went about assigning a mission duty to each participant.
Observed by the Pros
Several CAP/WSDOT aircrew members volunteered to observe the cadet mission as it progressed. Their instructions were to be a fly on the wall, and only answer questions if asked. Let the cadets run the mission. And at the end of the day, they would evaluate the mission.
To make the exercise as realistic as possible, the cadet staff used actual search-and-rescue aeronautical charts, standard CAP and FEMA mission forms, and adhered to all CAP radio communications protocols.
Developing a Search Strategy
"At approximately 6:45 am, a small commuter jet carrying sixty-two passengers lost radar and radio contact. The jet had departed from Spokane and was enroute to Bellingham."
Armed with this initial description of the search target, the cadets consulted the gridded sectional chart, and determined a search strategy. Picking the two most likely locations, they assigned cadet aircrews and launched a radio-relay aircraft, and two search aircraft.
Each cadet aircrew had a printout of their search grid assignment, maps, plotters, and a two-way radio. Before take-off, they were also required to submit mission flight plans and receive flight releases for their sorties.
As in an actual search, they launched the radio-relay crew first, followed closely by the two search planes.
Cadet Mission Aircrew and Flight Simulators
To allow the cadets to fly as aircrew members, the SAREX mission used three computers running the X-Plane flight simulator software. Each simulator station was equipped with control yoke and rudder pedals. To improve visibility, the video display was also projected on a large screen in the front of the room.
The flight simulator scenery files were previously modified to include several realistic-looking downed aircraft. The simulator's search planes had also been equipped with a Becker DF-517 — a direction-finding instrument that is normally found in actual CAP search aircraft.
Each aircrew was also provided with a two-way radio. As in an actual mission, all communications between aircrews and Mission Base occurred over the radio, and followed standard CAP radio communications protocols.
Ground Team Support
Meanwhile, other cadets trained with UDF (Urban Direction Finding) equipment. The UDF is a directional radio receiver that is used to track radio distress beacons.
During the exercise, one member would hide a practice distress beacon somewhere on the four-acre compound. The cadets would use the UDF equipment to find it.
In an actual search mission (particularly at night or in bad weather), a search aircrew might not even see the target — the radio signal from the downed plane’s distress beacon might be their only clue. The aircraft relays the approximate location of the beacon to the UDF teams. The ground teams then use the UDF equipment to find the precise location of the distress beacon.
About four hours into the simulated search, and in spite of several simulated emergencies that had been added to the exercise, the second search aircrew identified the downed aircraft near Lake Armstrong — about six miles north of the Arlington airport.
The video, below, shows a second CAP aircraft departing the Arlington airport and heading toward the reported target.
The senior member CAP aircrew advisers were very impressed with the cadets’ performance and level of professionalism. "I think the cadets would be very surprised at how closely today’s practice SAREX matches a real search mission," said Captain John Haug, a veteran CAP search pilot.
Come See For Yourself
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.