FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP - Shortly after the alarms were sounded for a simulated mid-air collision at the Houghton Country Memorial Airport Wednesday, members of the Copper Country Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol Michigan Wing boarded its Cessna 172.
Their mission was to locate a "downed aircraft" by tracking its emergency locater transmitter.
"It's a device that they put on airplanes so that in the event of a crash it will emit a signal," Mission Pilot Kevin Cadeau said prior to the drill. "What we're going to be doing is an ELT search and a visual search."
Kelly Fosness/Daily Mining Gazette
A Cessna 172 aircraft, operated by members of the Copper Country Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol is seen during a simulated mid-air collision drill Wednesday at the Houghton County Memorial Airport. Their mission was to locate a “downed aircraft” by tracking its emergency locater transmitter.
The CAP was among multiple emergency crews participating in the drill, which involved "simulated flight 6375," located near a hangar, and "simulated flight 1234," which the aircrew was responsible for locating.
While the airport has held the drill every three years as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, Airport Manager Dennis Hext said this was the first time they incorporated the CAP squadron.
"The Civil Air Patrol is a resource that not a lot of people know about in the county but they're a very valuable resource," he said. "They've got a good squadron up here. They've already got a couple saves to their name and for this drill, what they did as far as finding the downed aircraft, they did an excellent job out there."
Smoke and overspray from the fire departments' water hoses blanketed emergency crews on the ground as the three-person air crew - Frank Sager, Jeff Burl and Cadeau - tracked the ELT signal from the blue skies above.
Each crew member has a particular duty during a mission.
Cadeau, who was mission scanner during the drill, was in charge of ground observation and documentation of the flight. Burl, the mission observer, carried out ground observation, GPS programming and communications. Sager, the mission pilot, was responsible for flying the aircraft safely.
"We'll get up to 3,000 to 5,000 feet," Cadeau said before takeoff. "As we start to pick up the signal and the signal becomes stronger, then we'll descend down to 1,000 feet above ground level."
Descending increases the probability of actually seeing the crash site, he said, and at that point they slow the aircraft down to 90 knots.
The crash site of simulated flight 1234, coordinated by CAP member Fred Testa, was in a field approximately two miles from the airport.
Once the crew was directly over the airplane-shaped object, Cadeau said they marked the coordinates on their GPS. That information was relayed to mission base to help ground teams locate the site.
"We'll continue to give air support to the ground teams and assist them on how to get to the downed aircraft," he said.
When the aircrew is no longer needed, Cadeau said they return to mission base where they provide authorities with photographs and documentation of the crash site. Based at the Houghton County Memorial Airport, the Copper Country Composite Squadron is currently comprised of 13 members.
"There are 61,000 members in the United States," he said. "(The CAP has) a fleet of about 550 airplanes. That's one of the largest fleets of Cessna aircrafts in the world."
While the CAP is most recognized for its search and rescue efforts and disaster relief, Cadeau said they also perform flights for the American Red Cross and provide flight instruction for the U.S. Air Force ROTC students at Michigan Technological University, among other programs.
All CAP members are volunteers.
Following the drill Wednesday evening, Cadeau said he thought their mission went well.
"It came together really smooth," he said. "As soon as we were airborne we were almost instantly picking up the signal. We were able to start heading toward it immediately."
Squadron Commander Joe Masini agreed.
"They found it pretty quick," he said. "A couple of turns and they were right over it."