CAP simulates earthquake flight mission

KNOX — The Indiana Wing of Civil Air Patrol (CAP), the official auxiliary of the Air Force, demonstrated their skills on a simulated mission at Starke county airport Friday. A crew of three CAP members and two media representatives boarded an 8-seat Australian bush plane late Friday afternoon after waiting several hours for weather conditions to stabilize.
“The goal today is to photograph the Kankuckee River, looking for infrastructure such as railroad crossings or bridges,” said Lt. Lindsay Shipps. “Most of (CAP's) missions do have to do with aerial photography.”
The photographs of the bridges taken Friday will be stored in the Air Force mission files in the case of a real earthquake, when they would possibly used for before and after comparison. During the hour-long flight over Starke county and part of LaPorte county, Shipps and CAP member David Sinn took turns photographing bridges along the river from each direction, noting whether they seemed structurally sound. Pilot Lt. Col. Matt Creed, vice commander of the Indiana CAP, orbited over the bridges at slow speed to ensure high-quality photos.
Shipps pointed out severely water-logged fields of the area farms, explaining that crops are suffering greatly as a result of recent rainfall. Sinn, who lives in Knox, also pointed out local landmarks as the plane flew over the downtown area later.
“(Having a) local person adds point of interest and background info to the mission,” said Shipps, who lives in Bloomington, Ind.
Indiana CAP members were evaluated Saturday and Sunday by the Air Force, testing their search and rescue skills, aerial photography, disaster recovery skills, and aircraft and personnel management.
“The Air Force is our customer (this weekend),” said Shipps.
Indiana Wing commander Col. Richard Griffith said that although the non-profit, all-volunteer organization is funded by the Air Force, they receive many flight requests from local agencies as well.
The average cost per hour of a CAP flight is $135-140, according to Shipps.
“A lot of local governments don't know the amount of money we could save them,” said Shipps, noting that they had photographed about 10 bridges in a little over a half-hour that day.
CAP's most common task is to find electronic locating transmitters (ELTs) from planes that may have gone down.
“99 percent of the time it's a false alarm,” said Griffith, explaining that the ELT alert is set off by g-force and may go off when the plane has not crashed.
However, CAP responds to every alert just in case. They also take photos to turn over to the state police and work on flood relief.
According to Shipps, many CAP cadets (ages 12-20) join with an interest in eventually pilot training for the Air Force or the Navy.
“We have a lot of cadets who are really interested in aviation,” said Shipps, adding that cadets sometimes know how to fly a plane before they learn to drive.
The added safety checks required for flying, Shipps believes, contribute to making an individual a more careful driver. Safety comes first for CAP, a value passed on to even the youngest cadet. Shipps said that their missions are designed so that even the least experienced person involved can express safety concerns and the rest of the team will comply.
The Indiana wing of CAP has 1350 members, eight aircraft, and more than 30 local squadrons across the state. In 2010, they were credited with saving 113 lives by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC).