Saturday, September 23, 2017

Eyes in the Sky

July 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

eyes in the sky title

Now through Labor Day, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) will be flying over the Long Island Sound.

The 56,000 members nationwide of CAP are part of the all-volunteer U.S. Air Force Auxiliary. CAP is part of the Total Force that includes the Air Force, Air Force Reserve, and Air National Guard. With a fleet of 550 aircraft and over a thousand vehicles, CAP performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

Chapman PortraitCAP flies its Long Island Sound Patrol (LISP) mission in support of Homeland Security and assists the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) during the height of the boating season. The LISP aircrew consists of a pilot, observer, and scanner. The pilot flies the aircraft and is the mission commander, the observer sits in the front seat next to pilot to assist with radios, navigation, search and rescue technology, and visual observation, while the scanner handles aerial photography (via cameras mounted on the outside of the aircraft) and visual observation. Many of the pilots flying LISP have extensive flying backgrounds, including airline and military pilots.

Per Colonel Ken Chapman, Connecticut Wing Commander and a member of the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary, “CAP is congressionally chartered and performs services for the federal government as the official civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force. All CAP aircrew are volunteers who serve their community, state, and nation. Many of our members volunteer because they want to give back and help their communities, state, and nation. Our members also enjoy the camaraderie and excitement of working towards a mission where we are helping others in need.” He adds, “We even have a retired Air Force two-star general who was a fighter pilot. Other members of the aircrew come from various backgrounds, including doctors, lawyers, college students, and retirees. CAP accepts new pilots and aircrew members and trains them for the mission.”

LISP aircrew will fly over 250 hours from Memorial Day to Labor Day — one flight each weekday covering the last three hours before sunset  (a time when boaters are typically reported missing or in distress) and multiple flights with extended coverage on weekends and holidays.

IMG_1541During LISP missions, CAP may operate anywhere within Long Island Sound or Block Island Sound. Its main operational area will be the eastern two-thirds of the Long Island Sound, a crucial economic artery between the New York metro area and southern New England, with more than eight million people living close to the shores.

“The area’s infrastructure is complex — arterial highways, rail lines, power lines, and bridges cross the densely populated area in both Connecticut and New York,” explains Chapman. “Nine towered airports ring the Long Island Sound, including LaGuardia and JFK; New London and Groton, Connecticut are home to a major U.S. Navy submarine base, the affiliated General Dynamics submarine plant, and the Coast Guard Academy. There are conventional shoreline power plants in Northport, Norwalk, Bridgeport, Milford, and New Haven, and an active nuclear power plant (Millstone) southeast of Niantic.”

Though many boaters consider it their playground, Chapman says that about 300 million tons ($800 billion worth) of cargo pass through the Long Island Sound each year. Petroleum and coal products make up the bulk of the ships’ cargo.

LISP 27 August 2010Along with port and infrastructure patrols, rail, highway, bridge, and power line reconnaissance and monitoring for petroleum spills, LISP provides rapid response to coastal situations including identification of (or response to) vessels in distress, searching for missing boaters, assessing aerial damage from natural and man-made disasters, and reporting and assisting with brush and forest fires.

The Connecticut wing of CAP works in coordination with the USCG during these missions. When an aircrew identifies a situation that needs investigation, they contact the USCG to coordinate an appropriate response. Alternatively, when the USCG determines it needs eyes on a situation, it will request that CAP provide an accurate assessment of the situation from its aerial vantage point.

Even without a specific task or assignment, CAP aircrew are “always looking for signs of distress, damage, or suspicious activity,” explains Chapman. For example, if they see a vessel under sail or power and making a wake, no suspicion is usually aroused. However, if there’s no wake and no anchor, the aircrew will look for flares, orange panels, waving arms, or other signs of distress like being aground, on the rocks, or signs of discolored water.

The CAP crew will determine if the USCG is in contact with the boater. If so, they will monitor the VHF radio conversation and relay location and any other pertinent info to the Coast Guard Sector Long Island Sound Command Center.

IMG_1539If the mayday call is out of range for the USCG, Chapman advises, “We will answer and communicate with the boater in distress. We will relay information to the Coast Guard about the situation, determine the number of souls on board, and the nature of the problem.” The CAP aircrew will instruct the boaters to don their life jackets and determine if they carry an emergency life raft. The eyes in the sky will monitor the situation in the water until help arrives.

In addition to being an additional set of eyes and ears over the water, CAP brings a unique capability to boater safety. CAP aircraft have direction-finding equipment installed allowing the aircrew to pinpoint the location of personal locator beacons, commonly called EPIRBs, carried on many boats and by individuals. Utilizing this same equipment employed to locate the emergency transmitter of a crashed aircraft, CAP strives to reduce the time between mishap and rescue.

To learn more about CAP and find out about other Long Island squadrons:


By Lita Smith-Mines

webPlus_web_green1   A rescue recollection and videos


While conducting a patrol flight over Long Island Sound in July, 2016 with the Civil Air Patrol, Major Janice Giegler and pilot-in-command Lieutenant Colonel Sandy Sanderson (399th Danbury Squadron) located and rendered assistance to a boater in distress. Most of the three-hour mission over Long Island Sound was uneventful for the Connecticut Wing aircrew of the CAP Cessna 182.

“Earlier in the flight, we saw very little activity on the water; hardly any sailboats at all, a few powerboats and those appeared mostly to be fishing, a couple of small tankers swinging on their hooks, and the Port Jefferson and Orient Point ferryboats operating as normal,” said Sanderson.

As evening approached, the flight turned west to return to mission base at Danbury Municipal Airport, Danbury, Connecticut. Suddenly the crew heard a “weak and garbled transmission” from a vessel in distress. Sanderson relayed the message that a vessel was dead in the water and requesting assistance to U.S. Coast Guard Sector Long Island, and then proceeded to the disabled craft’s reported position.

The Civil Air Patrol aircrew located the vessel near the south end of the Connecticut River and provided its location to the Coast Guard. “The boat captain was sort of excited as he was drifting near a rocky jetty and had his wife and two children on board. We got him calmed down and the Coast Guard squared him away about getting help,” said Sanderson.

The Civil Air Patrol aircrew remained in orbit over the disabled boat until a helper vessel, Prudence, arrived on the scene. With the safety of the boaters assured, the flight cleared the area and headed home.

“At that point we were not needed any longer, so we left our orbit, climbed away, and returned to Danbury Airport,” said Sanderson.

Lieutenant Colonel Sanderson said Major Giegler, serving as the Observer, provided valuable help during the incident. “She kept the vessel in sight and kept me well informed on what was happening, including the arrival of the helper vessel.”

~ Excerpt of CAP press release




Comments are closed.