Civil air patrol to host open house

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By Special to the Monitor

His eyes quickly focused on the glowing digits of the clock, which read 4:30 a.m., as he grabbed the ringing handset.

The voice at the other end of the line said, “Mark, this is the State Rescue Center. A day hiker was reported missing last night in the mountains east of Taos. We need you off the ground at first light, find the hiker and vector in the jet chopper to get him out. Can you do it?"

Mark Peters quickly slipped into his fireproof Nomex flight suit and jump boots, threw his survival gear and flight equipment in the back of his Miata convertible, and headed up the dark road to the airport.

Four hours later, he had spotted the hiker, vectored in the chopper and was winging his way back to his day job at Los Alamos National Laboratory with a satisfied smile on his face.

Most people would never know.

Sounds like something out of a Tom Clancey novel? It does, but in this case it’s the Los Alamos Civil Air Patrol (CAP) at work.

“For every real search and rescue mission, I fly 30 or more training missions. But the Civil Air Patrol gives me a way to apply my love of flying to a valuable and exciting community service,” Mark said.

To learn more about the Civil Air Patrol, the public is invited to an open house and pancake breakfast at 7:30 a.m. June 7 at the Los Alamos Airport terminal building. There will be a suggested donation of $5 for adults and $3 for children.

The patrol meets at 6 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at the terminal building.

It just so happens that Mark’s wife, Annette, shares his love of flying and is the Squadron Commander of the Los Alamos CAP squadron.

“With new technology like cell phones and pocket GPS mapping devices, we don't have as many searches as we did 10 years ago,” Annette said. “But we still need to be prepared when we are needed. The good news is, that same technology is now being incorporated into our airplanes. We just received a brand new 2008 Cessna 182T with a Garmin 1000 GPS system and glass cockpit.”

Dave McClard, who in addition to working at the lab during the day, is the CAP State Emergency services director, said, “I was very excited to get this new aircraft stationed here at Los Alamos. The Air Force is starting to modernize the national fleet of CAP search and rescue aircraft, and we were fortunate to get one of these new $400,000 aircraft here in Los Alamos.”

CAP members credit McClard with playing a key role in getting this aircraft.

McClard added, “The Cessna 182 is a proven three-person aircraft with a 230-horsepower engine, and a constant speed prop. But, the exciting part is the instrumentation. Instead of having individual flight instruments, this plane has two color computer screens where all the information is displayed. We have dual redundant GPS units, moving map displays with terrain avoidance, autopilot, ELT direction finders.”

“To keep a plane like this fully utilized, we really need about 20 pilots and 10 observers, and we only have about half that today,” Annette said. “So we want to get the word out that we need experienced pilots who are interested in flying on a regular basis. While our assigned missions are free to our qualified mission pilots, the cost for individual proficiency flying is only $46 per hour, plus gas.”

Annette points out that you don’t have to be a pilot to fly in this plane. “I’m not a pilot, and I participate in the flights as an observer. While the pilot is flying the plane, I’m the one who is looking out the window to spot that lost hiker or downed plane. We recently missed out on an opportunity to fly in a multi-state exercise because we didn’t have an observer available. So we need people who would like to fly and help look for things, even if they don’t have any flying training.”

If anyone would like more information, they can call Mark, and his wife, Annette, at 672-3111.