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!

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