By Terry Stephens
A high-tech Cessna 182R Skylane is giving the Seattle squadron of the Civil Air Patrol a major boost in the effectiveness of its search and rescue missions, as well as a larger role supporting homeland security operations.
“In fact, it’s been getting a good workout with the Department of Homeland Security as well as CAP missions, since we received it in June,” said Lt. Ron Kruml, public affairs officer for the squadron.
The aircraft is based at Boeing Field. With a fuel capacity of 88 gallons, the plane has a range of 968 nautical miles, a takeoff distance of 795 feet and a landing space of 590 feet. Its 230-horsepower engine gives the plane a rate of climb of 924 feet per minute.
The aircraft’s popularity comes not only from being a high-performance aircraft, but also because of its equipment. The plane is one of a fleet of Cessna 182s that was purchased by the federal government for CAP squadrons in all 50 states. The fleet support the CAP’s mission of educating youth about aviation through its cadet corps as well as conducting SAR operations.
Cessna’s basic price for the plane is around $250,000, but its Garmin 1000 glass-cockpit avionics system adds another $47,500 to the cost. The expense of purchasing and installing CAP’s high-tech search and rescue equipment and communications gear is additional.
Included in the Garmin 1000 avionics package are two 10-inch-high XGA screen displays (one for primary flight information and the other for multi-purpose uses), an attitude heading reference system, solid state air data computer, three-axis magnetometer, electronic engine indication system, dual navigation and communication radio. The package also includes dual IFR en route and approach data systems, an upgradeable GPS unit, a traffic information system, terrain and obstacle mapping, XM satellite weather and radio, a Stormscope system, KAP 140 autopilot and a backup airspeed, attitude and altimeter system with a standby battery.
“It’s like flying a 747 but in a 182 body,” says Major Long Nguyen, commanding officer of the Seattle CAP squadron. “Once you get to know it, the plane is really nice and the GPS system is easy to use. The Garmin 1000 system provides a lot of increased awareness for the pilot, but there’s a lot of learning involved. If you fly and practice a lot with that glass cockpit, soon it’s just as easy as flying a round-dial aircraft. But if you’re away from it a couple of months, you have to really work to remember where to find things.”
Nguyen is a professional pilot flying a variety of corporate aircraft for Clay Lacy’s Boeing Field operation. Holder of an airline transport pilot certificate, and registered as a certified flight instructor, he has more than 10,000 flying hours to his credit. Along with his volunteer work with CAP, he serves as a volunteer and planner in air search and rescue services with the aviation division of the Washington Department of Transportation.
In addition to the large, easy-to-follow GPS screen, pilots can subscribe for $40 a month for a satellite link to continuously update weather while they’re flying.
“If you get lost or caught by a thunderstorm with this system, you’re an idiot and probably shouldn’t be flying the aircraft in the first place,” he said.
CAP’s version includes a Technisonic TDFM-136 airborne VHF/FM transceiver covering every available channel from 136 to 174 MHz, plus a two-line screen showing frequencies and their assigned users, including all government agencies CAP works with in its various missions. A satellite digital imaging system is onboard for sending aerial photos to ground stations, as well as a Becker Avionics SAR-DF, the latest direction finder for detecting beacon signals from downed planes or individuals.
“The Becker makes it easy for us to home in on which way to turn for those beacons. Then we literally just follow the signal,” Nguyen said. “The Becker is really sensitive (easily picking up the 450-millisecond digital pulses being broadcast every 50 seconds by the beacons).”
Like much of the new aviation technology that’s been developed, there’s a downside to be aware of, according to Nguyen.
“This avionics package provides so much information so easily—particularly on search missions—that the pilot, as well as the observer on board, needs to stick his head outside once in a while. Paying too much attention to the inside, staring at the cockpit, isn’t the best thing to do,” he said.
Nationally, CAP’s roster of 500 aircraft is the largest civilian fleet in the country. Many new Cessna 182s have been purchased to modernize much of that fleet of CAP aircraft, explained Kruml. He said another 20 planes will be added during 2006 and another 27 in 2007.
“The 182 is very popular with both pilots and maintenance crews, and it’s a real stable aircraft that’s great for photo missions,” Kruml said. “When we flew over the Skagit Valley flooding recently for the Washington State Department of Emergency Management, I was able to take high-resolution digital photos and transmit them from the plane.”
He was able to do so through an Internet connection to the desktop or laptop computer of the requesting agency while they were still orbiting the scene. The Satellite-transmitted digital imaging system is technology developed by CAP. It’s used nationally to transmit high-resolution images of land or sea targets to ground computers. The 12-pound system includes a digital camera, laptop computer and satellite telephone for its missions, which include disaster relief and homeland security assignments as well as SAR flights.
“Before, we had to fly out of Boeing Field, take the photos over the target and return to the airport before we were able to download them into a computer and send them to the people who needed them,” said Kruml, one of two people in the squadron who handle photo assignments. “It’s a pretty slick system and a real step up from our past options.”
The Civil Air Patrol, headquartered at Maxwell AFB, Ala., was founded in December 1941, fulfilling an idea supported by more than 150,000 citizens who expressed concern about the defense of the nation’s coastline. That was only a week before the attack on Pearl Harbor. By 1946, under the Army Air Force, CAP pilots and crews had flown more than a half-million miles of patrol, rescued hundreds of crash survivors and earned credit for sinking two enemy submarines.
Congress made CAP the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, after that military branch’s creation in 1947. CAP was established as a 503(c)3 nonprofit corporation, and charged with three primary missions: aerospace education, cadet aviation and leadership and emergency services.
Today, the all-volunteer CAP Seattle Squadron has 25 cadets in its group and operates with more than 60 senior members; all but two of them are pilots.
“Everyone from the Washington wing colonel down to the newest member is a volunteer. We have Microsoft programmers, a dentist, chief financial officers—a whole spectrum of backgrounds,” Kruml said. “Because of the population mix, we have members from England, India, Asia and Australia.”
There are more than 1,500 CAP units nationwide, with more than 60,000 members, including 25,000 cadets, ages 12 to 21, who provide about 10 percent of each year’s new classes entering the nation’s military service academies. CAP pilots tally more than 120,000 flying hours a year, most of that time in SAR operations. CAP conducts 95 percent of all inland SAR missions in the nation for the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and other agencies, accounting for an average of 100 lives saved annually.
For more information about the Civil Air Patrol, visit [http://www.cap.gov]. For local information, visit [http://www.capseattlesquadron.org] or call 206-310-1269.