November 22, 2009


I took me long enough, but I opened up a twitter account today for this site. You can now follow me on @whatsaflgtoffcr. I don't have the time anymore to maintain this blog like I used to, so this is an effort to keep the momentum, while fitting it into my schedule.

But, I don't know how I'm going to use it yet, so stay tuned!

October 23, 2009

This morning I arrived to work to have our chief pilot come up to me and say "Did you hear about that airliner that overflew its destination by 150 miles?" I had to reply "no". Although I did turn on the news this morning, this story was (maybe rightfully) absent from the major networks.

This story serves to remind us that the most vicious enemies in the sky may not be an engine out or fire, but a loss of situational awareness. In this case, it was due to an arguement that had little to do with the flight itself. It should also be noted that the article cites another reason why the airliner overflew its destination; crew fatigue.

Both are extremely important in conducting a safe flight, and both contribute to a loss in situational awareness. Arguing over corporate policy means your thinking about proving your side and not whether the VOR indicator changed from "to" to "from". Struggling to keep your eyes open means you aren't scanning your instrument panel.

In this case, it was a simple screw up and nothing bad happened. It could've been a lot worse. The article mentions that USAF fighters were scrambled to intercept the aircraft. Fortunately they were called off, but you can see how badly this could've ended.

This incident serves as a healthy reminder that if the big boys can make this kind of mistake, so can we. Our missions are 1000' AGL over what is often difficult terrain. There are reasons we have sterile cockpit rules, and follow them.

October 11, 2009

Wing Conference

Yes, its that time again. I will be attending the Maryland Wing Conference this year (again) and as always I will be doing my usual report after-the-fact.

For those of you going to that conference, I'll see you there. I'll be the one in the blue uniform. ;)

September 28, 2009

Airport MADNESS!!!

Found this on facebook and had to share. See how far you can get. And don't forget to keep 'em separated.

Wish there was something profound to this post, but oh well....


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August 23, 2009

The Tragic Tale of Trooper 2 + the state of the Medevac industry.

Some time ago, a Maryland State Police Medevac Chopper called Trooper 2 suffered a mishap in southern Maryland. Today the Washington Post put out a report on the issue. It's worth the watch. I took something away from this report. Maybe you will too.

I've always felt a kinship with these guys. God bless their families.

Additionally,this article, also from the post, details why the Medevac industry is one of the deadliest in the world. Again, worth the read.

August 19, 2009

Teaching from the Tube: Emergency! "Trainee"

Tonight, we showed this episode of the classic EMS TV show "Emergency!" at my squadron. In this episode, the Paramedics and Doctors must deal with a paramedic-trainee who feels he knows better than the doctors and the program.

Check it out below before continuing reading.

There is an awful lot one can take from this episode as a teaching tool, which is partially why it was chosen. Three things come to mind as I watch this episode: The value of procedure, the need for a professional attitude, and the value of looking past pre-conceptions.

The first, value of procedure, may be easily lost on some. Near the end of the episode, Ed Marlow asks why all the pomp and circumstance for an apparent drug overdose. The answer in this case becomes clear: because it isn't a classic overdose. In the same manner, some newcomers may wonder why CAP may dispatch an aircraft and ground teams for what is most likely a non-distress find. The answer here is the same: because it might not be.

The value of procedure has other applications as well. Why does CAP have a chain of command? Why does the decision to commit resources lie with some commands and not others? The reasoning is to provide a check and ballance so persons with limited knowledge and experience are not making the life-or-death calls in the field. We see this illustrated beautifully in this episode. On its most basic level, the use of procedures can be shown in the various checklists used before an aircraft or vehicle starts its engine. Why bother when there are lives on the line? Because to err is human.

A professional attitude manifests itself often in how one deals with outsiders. Roy DeSoto's calm demeanor when instructing Ed is in direct contrast to Ed's own reactions to Roy's orders. In the process, Ed comes off as arrogant and immature, while Roy instantly gains the audience's trust. The scene in the locker room once again hits the nail on the head when Roy tells Ed he is a good paramedic, but professionalism is not about how well you can insert an IV. "You can't stop competing with real doctors, and you can't face being wrong" he tells the young trainee. Therefore, attitude is as much a part of professionalism as duty performance.

Finally, letting go of your preconceptions is as important a skill to any professional as being able to DF an ELT signal, insert an IV, or fly an airplane. This show demonstrates how one can see what they want to see, and only by letting go of the idea that the patient is overdosing can they properly diagnose the patient. Similarly, our Cadet ES Officer related a story tonight where his team was unable to locate an ELT in the forrest because they didn't look up into the tree tops. Letting go of preconceptions can, at the end of the day, be the difference between a "save", "find" or neither.

For a TV show that was written almost 40 years ago, it makes some valuable points.

May 13, 2009

H.R. 1178 passes in the House

I was pleased when I logged onto CAPTalk today to see that a similar bill to the Civil Air Patrol Homeland Security Support Act from 2007 (remember that?) had passed in the House. Not willing to simply go on it, as this is big news, I went over to and sure enough, the bill was passed. The bill is designed to "direct the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a study on the use of Civil Air Patrol personnel and resources to support homeland security missions, and for other purposes." In fact, that is its actual tile.

I will plan on writing some more in-depth analysis of it at some later date (but before the end of this month). Hopefully I can put that brand new Political Science Degree to good use.

Edit: As I sit here, I have to wonder if the current state of the nation's finances played any factor in the passage of this bill. (That being said, any negative or unsubstantiated comments towards Congress or the Administration will be deleted.)

February 7, 2009

Competing with UAS: Civil Air Patrol’s Advantages, Disadvantages, and How to Overcome Them

I know it's been a while since I've posted...well...anything. This is related to my school and personal exploits. I graduate only a short time from now, and that means the job search is on full time. Once June comes, and my life takes a somewhat more-normal track, I'll be back into the swing of things full time. For now, enjoy a piece I wrote in response to a discussion we had at our last squadron meeting.

One of my projects these days is looking at the politics of the creation of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Program Office (UAPO). I am doing this as part of my duties as a student, and for personal interest in the idea. Naturally, I stay current with the evolving UAS world and their proliferation into the national airspace system. Customs and Border Protection Air and Marine have started a UAS program along both the southern and northern border, and NOAA is also spinning up a UAS program of their own that should be operational within the next few years.

I am a contender that both manned and unmanned assets can coexist together, peacefully. But as the proliferation of UAS, as well as their capabilities, increase, there is discussion at the local level of organizations such as CAP losing their advantages of cost-effectiveness to the growing UAS market. Fortunately for CAP, the FAA is dragging its feet on creating a comprehensive UAS policy for operations in the national airspace. However, my research for the aforementioned project indicates that a comprehensive policy is on the horizon; and it may not be good for the Civil Air Patrol.

Firstly, it should be noted that right now UAS are “sexy”. They’re the new kid in town and therefore are the most interesting. Everyone wants one, and everyone wants to use them regardless of how well they will perform the mission. However, they have another capability that Civil Air Patrol currently lacks: they can provide real-time video of any target to the home base and loiter for hours (or days) on end. This is a capability that manned vehicles simply cannot match. Granted, manned aircraft can provide real-time video, but they can’t loiter for more than just a couple of hours before risking crew fatigue. The larger airframes can accomplish this as they can rotate out the crews, however the fuel costs skyrocket with the larger airframes. Some UAS are comparable to these aircraft in terms of operating cost, but most are cheaper. Smaller, cheaper manned airframes, can rotate assignments, but that means having at least 2 aircraft, and crews for both. This also means the costs have the potential to increase beyond what the customer wants.

However, these are the only major advantages of unmanned aircraft that CAP cannot compete with. The remaining disadvantages are correctable, and lie in two major areas: technology and dedication. Technology-wise, CAP is very much behind the curve. SDIS was cool a few years ago, but technology is constantly changing, and now the system is antiquated and over-priced for comparable systems with better capabilities. Most UAS, and even many manned platforms have this capability, as well as the ability to transmit video real-time back to headquarters. However, there are solutions to this. UAS payloads can be adapted for our own aircraft. The company I worked for during the summer manufactures an overhead imagery pod that is less than 15 pounds, and has the same capabilities as the larger FLIR systems. It is also cheaper, and easier to operate than a FLIR pod. It doesn’t take one with an over-active imagination to imagine how to integrate this pod into a C-172 airframe, and modification of our existing airframes with this technology should be easy. Training is also simple: within only a few hours an aircrew and ground receiver can be trained on how to use the technology effectively. The major factor that would stand in our way is having the FAA go along with this modification. Technically, this would turn our aircraft into experimental airframes under the FARs. Getting a waiver for this, or finding another method of certification to meet such a large fleet would need to be negotiated between the FAA and the Civil Air Patrol before any program such as this could take place.

Dedication should not be construed as a lack of individual dedication, but rather the ability for members to leave work to perform missions as needed. As volunteers, all members that are not cadets work full-time jobs to pay the bills and enable them to perform their duties within the Civil Air Patrol. However, our potential missions may take place during times when most need to be at work to support the family. One could use personal days to accomplish missions, however this cuts down on the family time and vacations that the individual rightly deserves. A way to ensure that members can take off from work, without using personal days or suffer repercussions from ‘the boss’ needs to be found so as to increase our ability to perform missions as needed.

Civil Air Patrol does have one major advantage that UAS do not currently have: experience. As stated above, UAS are the new kid in town, and a lot of what is going on with them is a learning curve. Our methods are tried-and-true with decades of tradition and experience behind them. Our experience comes in two areas: mission skills and use of legacy airframes. Civil Air Patrol aircrews come from all walks of life. My squadron alone boasts 3 airline captains, 5 retired military, and one aerospace engineer. This varied experience means that one aircrew can have literally tens of thousands of hours, and decades of experience present to accomplish the mission. Additionally, CAP uses legacy airframes, indeed two of the most successful in the history of aviation, to accomplish its missions. UAS have only been viable options for around a decade, and are constantly being improved and updated. Predator, Shadow and Global Hawk certainly come close to being legacy airframes. But there are no UAS airframes with the same proven reliability and safety record as the C-172 and C-182. That alone gives the CAP an advantage.

These two factors are perhaps CAP’s greatest advantage in competing with UAS in the national airspace system. When combined with a new professional image, new technologies, and a better ability to rely on personnel, CAP can remain competitive in the market for airborne systems. If the CAP can accomplish these three items, while keeping costs low, it will mean that CAP has a future, and keep the organization from going the way of so many other good and patriotic organizations in the past.