Tuesday, May 7, 2019

First CAP meeting

Prior to filling out a membership application, prospective members are encouraged/required (don't know which, but it matters not) to attend two meetings. I attended my first last night. The meetings start at 19:00 hours, which is a little test in and of itself. Fortunately, I instantly recognized that as being equivalent to 7:00 Eastern Muggle Time. The meetings are held in a room located in Hangar 4 at Don Scott (KOSU) airport. If you don't know precisely where hangar 4 is, or where to go once inside the voluminous interior space, you are not alone. Well, you are now, but less than 24 hours ago I was in the same boat. The hangar wasn't hard to find, but it was festooned with doors - which to choose?

Easy - follow the guy wearing a CAP shirt - chances are that's where he's going.

Maj. Joe was already inside and dressed to the 9's in ho Air Force blues, ostensibly because he was getting his picture taken. He was preparing to lead the meeting, so we only talked briefly before I tried to find a place to sit in an inconspicuous area. Failing that, I ended up right up front. Was I the subject of eighteen pairs of inquisitive eyes? I have no idea, but it sure felt that way. The ages of the group appeared to run from late-30's to early 70's, all male. They chatted amongst themselves while I attempted to blend into the wall behind me.

The meeting started right on time. Not immediately, but soon thereafter, I was asked/ordered (don't know which, but it matters not) to stand up and introduce myself. I immediately cleared up any possible misunderstanding of my name (98% hear 'Campbell') by telling them that it's "Gamble, with a G" and following up with an early biographical factoid: "I was enlisted in the Air Force; they were afraid to make me an officer because at some point I might become a Major Gamble."

Someone, somewhere dropped a pin. Everyone heard it. How not to, given the utter silence? They either didn't get it, or the meetings were far more formal than I had anticipated. Or, and I credit this with being nearly impossible, they didn't think it was funny.

Tough room.

The meeting went on for two hours, and I was very happy to have done some preparatory research into what it is they actually do. Even so, a lot of it was inside baseball; I still paid rapt attention to whoever was speaking - I can't prove it, but periodic glances at Maj. Joe led me to believe that he was paying attention to whether or not I was paying attention. Most of it fleshed out many of the fundamentals of what I had learned from perusing the documents on their website, and some of it was brand new and very intriguing. There was a lot of talk about having mounts installed on the Cessna 182 to carry a Garmin Virb, which is sort of like a GoPro camera but with presumably better mission supporting features. That's not much of a stretch - the G1000 instrument panel includes Search & Rescue (SAR) functions that take the drudgery (and time) out of plotting search grids.

I'm very intrigued with this subject. There is a PowerPoint (oh, goody - thought I left that behind when I retired from Corp. America) at this link, if you're curious.

Towards the end of the meeting, a handful of achievement awards were presented to squadron members who had successfully defeated entrenched resistance from various bureaucratic offices. It was at that point that I realized just how much this was going to be like the USAF.

The next meeting is in two weeks and will be notably different from this one - they will have planes in the air coordinating with the staff on the ground as they go through what I assume will be a practice mission. I'm looking forward to that too.

As far as flying, I am still practicing what I can in my own plane, which really isn't much. I'm just flying GPS instrument approaches in good weather and no vision obstruction devices as are usually used in IFR practice. I'm not ready for that quite yet; I'm practicing following the routes and altitude changes with the autopilot and my eyes mostly looking out the window. I'm getting close to the point where I will put on the vision-limiting goggles (Foggles is the trade name) and enlist the help of a safety pilot. I'm still also using one of my PC-based flight sims to practice the use of the Garmin G1000. I'm also getting close to starting discussions on the subject of spending some money on a new iPad and a tremendously useful app called ForeFlight. Frankly, I want that even if I never fly IFR again - it's an incredible tool.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

CAP: Lunch with Major Joe, moving forward

My first real conversation with Maj. Joe was chock full of information, but it was delivered via iPhone while I was driving. To me more precise (in order to ward off the nannies), the iPhone was pumping through the fancy software in my truck; it was like listening to someone sitting right there with me. And I do mean "listening" - it was a lot of info and I gathered as much of it as I could while still paying adequate attention to traffic, etc. It wasn't until a couple of days later that I started having questions to ask.

The delay in queries came from the discovery of the squadron's website, where I found a treasure trove of interesting documents, ranging from "getting started" to details about the tasks expected and required of crew members. My favorites, which I can't seem to find again, were copies of actual mission briefing sheets. There were also documents describing the knowledge and skills that will be put to the test on check rides. Those were the ghosts of CAP future that I feared the most. While I can (and do) fly my RV-12 safely and according to applicable regulations, I doubt if I could answer the types of esoteric questions that are the very hallmark of check rides.

In a nutshell, there are going to be challenges in learning the non-flying aspects of the CAP and there will be challenges in getting myself back up to the flying and aeronautical knowledge standards appropriate to the mission. In other words, I have to do a lot of refresher learning in both the book stuff and the flying stuff. For VFR (good weather) flying, I am mostly concerned with the knowledge portion, although I will need some flying time to get up to speed on the bigger, faster, and more complex Cessna 182.

The questions that I had ranged from uniform requirements (what are the uniforms going to cost), how pilots are tasked with missions and what is the expected response time (is it 30 minutes notice? 48 hours?), and confirmation of the parts that sounded too good to be true (personal rental of the planes for training for only $40/hr dry), so I invited the Major to meet me for lunch to get an idea of what the time requirements would be (don't really care - I have time!) and what kind of financial outlay will I be looking at. I was also wondering how to work through all of the learning documents I had found in some kind of logical order.

First, there are many options in the uniform regs. They can be as easy as a blue polo shirt and grey business slacks. Sadly, the military-style flight suit is acceptable, but not mandatory. Being optional and carrying a price tag of over $250 makes it a tough sell. I may treat myself to one of those if/when I work my way up to flying from the left seat as the flight commander.

Response time varies, but it seems that there is plenty of notice before showing up for a mission. Promising news was that many of the pilots have day jobs, so are mostly restricted to evening and weekend flights, whereas I would be available just about every day. That sounds like I will be able to fly a goodly number of missions, and I'm okay with that!

The airplane rental is real - $40/hr, but I have to buy the gas. We'll talk more about this in the budgeting section of this report. I also learned that in addition to the Cessna 182, they also have a Garmin G1000 equipped Cessna 172, which is important for two reasons: it burns only a little more than half the fuel as the 182, and it isn't very popular compared to its big brother, meaning more availability for 2nd Lieutenant Memyselfandi. I forgot to verify that the CFI (flight instructor) is free, but that's not a big deal. Either way, it's a very good deal from a financial point of view.

I'm pretty close to 100% sure I'm going to do this, but the process needs to be followed; I will have to attend two meetings before submitting my membership application. The first meeting is inn two days, and there is another scheduled for two weeks after that, so this part will go quickly. I will have to go to the Sheriff's office to get finger printed and they will do an FBI background check, but that's nothing new. Once that it done and my membership is approved, I will get a training curriculum, most of which will be simple policy training and easily available online.

While I'm waiting for that, I will bone up on the flying aspect, starting with the VFR flying. That one is easier than IFR for two reasons: I need only concentrate on the weather, regulations, and flight planning since I am confident that I can fly the C-172. The bigger plane is a separate thing and can wait. The book learning will be easy because I bought the Sporty's Learn to Fly Private Pilot online training years ago for exactly the same purpose: keeping up with the things I need to know, and keeping up with new regulations.

Once I'm comfortable with that, I will do the IFR side of things. This is where I will need the most work - not only have I forgotten most of the book learning, but I am also way, way out of practice in the flying aspects too. For this I will buy the Sporty's IFR training package. I am also going to need to buy an iPad - flight planning is almost always done with an iPad app called ForeFlight. My tablet is an Android, for which there are no apps equivalent to ForeFlight, and my old iPad is exactly that: too old.

One thing that I can do right now is to get started on learning the Garmin G1000. That will be enabled by a flight simulator I have on my PC. It's called X-Plane 11, and it has a simulated Cessna 172 with a G1000. It also emulates Air Traffic Control (ATC), so I will be able to plan and fly actual flights - that will save both time and money.

So, budget. Everything related to flying costs money, and more often than not, it costs a lot of money. Just to get an idea, I put together a brief pro forma budget.

ITEM           COST
Uniforms       $150, until flight suit
IFR Training   $200
172/hr*        $40 + fuel ($5/gal, 8 gal/hr) - $80/hr ($185 mkt)
182/hr*        $40 + fuel ($5/gal, 14 gal/hr) - $110/hr ($225 mkt)
ForeFlight     $100/yr
iPad           $600 new, $450 used

* $5/gallon is very conservative - it is likely to be less given current prices. I figure I'll need about 15 hours split between the two planes to get to a decent level of competence, so initial flight training will be around $1,500, more if the CFI is getting paid.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Flying for a Purpose

I've kept quiet about this for awhile now - probably more than a year but less than three - but I have been starting to question whether flying was "worth it" for me anymore. It's deeply personal and has huge ramifications.  Factoid: I flew a total of 17 hours last year, which is practically nothing, and certainly not enough to justify the fixed costs and the maintenance work. I've even gone so far as considering selling the airplane and either getting a different airplane or just quitting entirely.

On the quitting side, there has been one huge unassailable fact to deal with: I would never be able to come back. The reason for that is by no means unique, but not something that I share with anyone but the host of other voices in my head. On the "getting something else" side, I think about doing something like buying an older Cessna or Piper and having it upgraded with a Dynon Skyview by virtues of the STC (basically a piece of paper that says a store-bought plane can legally use Dynon avionics) and cleaning up any paint and/or interior issues, the purpose being to end up with an IFR-capable travel plane. I'm instrument rated, but haven't been current since the day I sold my Tampico in August 2005. I would like to get back to that level of flying, but an RV-12 is not the way to do it. And no, there is no way of owning both, and I will not rent for that type of flying.

I started to wonder if  I was simply bored. Probably, is my guess, but.... bored with what? Flying in its entirety? Flying the same trips over and over and over? Some mix of both? While it might seem unlikely, I do have to consider than I'm closer to age 60 than I am to 55. Things change, both physically and in other realms. Or, and this is my working theory, I need for there to be more purpose for my flying than buying bargain-priced cheeseburgers in Portsmouth.

Something happened recently that set the gears in motion for testing that hypothesis: I went to Missouri to fly the B-2 simulator and found myself more pumped up about aviation than I was for the first flight of the RV-12. I learned that there are still things about flying that bring out that old enthusiasm for flying that I grew up with. There remains hope.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed the camaraderie of the group of pilots almost as much as I enjoyed the simulator. I even got nostalgic for the military, something my 26 year old self would never have imagined. After some thought about it, I reached out to a local friend who happens to be a major in the Civil Air Patrol. You can meet him here:

I was. of course, aware of the CAP, but had never paid much attention to it. Joe's descriptions of the types of missions that they fly were very intriguing indeed. Most of them are quite meaningful and provide important services in support of more than just the air force. This is a partial list of what they are tasked with:
Civil Air Patrol covers several emergency services areas. The principal categories include search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian services, and United States Air Force support. Other services, such as homeland security and actions against drug-trafficking operations, are becoming increasingly important.
A CAP search and rescue (SAR) pilot
The Civil Air Patrol is well known for its search activities in conjunction with search and rescue (SAR) operations. CAP is involved with approximately three quarters of all aerial inland SAR missions directed by the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Outside of the contiguous United States, CAP directly supports the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. CAP is credited with saving an average of 100 lives per year.
CAP is active in disaster relief operations, especially in areas such as Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana that are frequently struck by hurricanes as well as Oklahoma and Texas which are frequented by large, damaging tornadoes. CAP aircrews and ground personnel provide transportation for cargo and officials, aerial imagery to aid emergency managers in assessing damage, and donations of personnel and equipment to local, state and federal disaster relief organizations during times of need. In 2004, several hurricanes hit the southeast coast of the United States, with Florida being the worst damaged; CAP was instrumental in providing help to affected areas. 
The Civil Air Patrol conducts humanitarian service missions, usually in support of the Red Cross. CAP aircrews transport time-sensitive medical materials, including blood and human tissue, when other means of transportation (such as ambulances) are not practical or possible. Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City when all general aviation was grounded, one of the first planes to fly over the World Trade Center site was a CAP aircraft taking photographs.
CAP performs several missions that are not combat-related in support of the United States Air Force, including damage assessment, transportation of officials, communications support and low-altitude route surveys. The CAP fleet is used in training exercises to prepare USAF pilots to intercept enemy aircraft over the Continental United States. Civil Air Patrol aircraft are flown into restricted airspace, where United States Air Force pilots may practice high-speed intercepts. 
The Civil Air Patrol also provides non-emergency assistance to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, and United States Forest Service in the War on Drugs. In 2005, CAP flew over 12,000 hours in support of this mission and led these agencies to the confiscation of illegal substances valued at over US$400 million. Civil Air Patrol makes extensive use of the Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance system, mounted on the Gippsland GA8 Airvan. The system is able to evaluate spectral signatures given off by certain objects, allowing the system to identify, for example, a possible marijuana crop. 
As a humanitarian service organization, CAP assists federal, state and local agencies in preparing for and responding to homeland security needs. The Red Cross, Salvation Army and other civilian agencies frequently request Civil Air Patrol aircraft to transport vital supplies including medical technicians, medication, and other vital supplies. They often rely on CAP to provide airlift and communications for disaster relief operations. CAP also assists the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.
So, yeah, there is definitely some purpose to be had there! I was also curious about the planes they fly. The local Sr. Squadron has a Cessna Turbo 182T with a Garmin 1000 panel. And therein lies the other facet I have been lacking: a challenge. The RV-12 is about as simple as a modern airplane can be, and lacks a purpose to keep my high-end skill set current. The 182 and Garmin mix is daunting, but not nearly so much as having to take check rides now and then and fly under conditions that I normally shy away from due to a very low benefit value to balance against risk. I am NOT saying that I want to fly in thunderstorms, but the weather I limit my flying to is clear skies and light winds, some of which is attributable to the relatively light RV-12 and some of it is the lack of any reason to get off the couch.

This will be one of the welcome challenges:

I also poked around on their website and found all kinds of stuff that indicate the level of effort that is going to be required just to fit in with the personnel structure and to get through all of the training. Again, it's all very appealing. I also came across some mission brief sheets that were super interesting, but I can't find them again. A couple of them were for flights up the length of a river that runs through town - civil engineers wanted to see the state of the bridges after a period of high water. For that, they needed a photographer - that is a position I could elect to be trained in if I chose to, which most of you will recognize as being something right up my alley.

As far as coming up to speed with flying the plane, there would be plenty of time for that. A typical mission requires a crew of three, with one of them being in the back seat acting as a spotter for search missions, or a photographer as mentioned above. That's where I would start. Through time, experience, and training, I would eventually move to the front seat. It's obvious to me that the time spent in the back would also provide a great place to watch and listen to get a feel for how operational flying is done in this new environment.

I'm leaving in 45 minutes to have lunch with the Major - as you can imagine, I have a LOT of questions for him!