On March 11, the Ascension Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol hosted a drone pilot and technician certification exercise at Lamar-Dixon Expo Center in Gonzales.
Civil Air Patrol, which is an auxiliary of the United States Air Force, provides volunteer assistance to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security in responding to natural disasters in the state, according to a news release.
This assistance is primarily in the form of aerial photography to document the extent of a disaster. The primary way this is done is from Cessna 172 or 182 aircraft flying at 1,000 feet above the ground using conventional photography. A three-person crew is involved — a pilot, an observer in the right seat and a photographer in the left rear seat — the release said. The pilot flies the aircraft, the observer helps in navigation, communication and target location and the photographer takes the actual pictures.
In recent years, the patrol has decided to provide drone photography. This involves a pilot and technician team who fly the drone and are able to take live or still photography of a small area. The drone is limited to flying at no more than 400 feet above the ground. Its utility is manifest in situations where full-size aircraft are unable to get the type of detail required for a full disaster evaluation.
The procedures and protocols required to perform the service are numerous and complicated. Many functions are required that are also required to fly an actual aircraft. Drones may also be used in search and rescue operations for lost or downed fliers, hikers, campers or other lost people when the approximate location may be known but may not be able to be located using conventional techniques.
The exercise hosted by the Ascension Composite Squadron was designed to certify new pilots and technicians to perform this valuable service.
Regulations require the drone not be flown out of sight. It is the responsibility of the technician to maintain visual contact of the drone while the pilot flies it and takes the required pictures. He also coordinates with the pilot to avoid obstacles and inform the pilot if the drone is in danger of flying out of sight.
Participating in the exercise were Maj. Mark Warriner and 2nd Lt. Mike Griffin, of the LA-001 squadron, which is the headquarters squadron for the Louisiana Wing; and Maj. Mike Giroir, who is the Louisiana wing director of operations for unmanned aircraft operations and a member of the Pontchartrain Squadron in New Orleans. The men were there to assist in the certification of Lt. Col. Mickey Marchand, Lt. Col. Marvin Owen and Capt. Ken Best, of the Ascension Composite Squadron, in their effort to become certified as pilot and/or technician for drone operation in accordance with Civil Air Patrol regulations.
Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force. In this role, it operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90% of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the coordination center with saving an average of 80 lives annually, the release said. The group’s 57,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. It also plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in cadet programs. Visit www.GoCivilAirPatrol.com for more information.