Civil Air Patrol Trains at Three Forks Airport
March 29, 2023
Five aircraft and thirty-one Civil Air Patrol (CAP) volunteers converged at the Three Forks Airport to train for CAP's volunteer aviation emergency services program. The volunteers consisted of 16 CAP seniors (adults over 18 years of age) and 15 CAP cadets (youth under 18 years of age).
The CAP seniors are trained to perform mission duties generally considered to be potentially hazardous, such as flying in CAP aircraft as part of an aircrew; while CAP cadets are limited to mission duties not generally considered to be hazardous, such as radio operator, ground team member, or flightline marshaller.
The primary objective for this weekend's training exercise focused on Montana Wing's need to develop its aerial photography capability. Montana Wing's aircrews were tasked to provide aerial photographs in last year's flooding in Montana, in areas such as Carbon County, which are used to determine the extent of damage in a disaster area by FEMA and other agencies. After last year's flooding, Montana Wing HQ determined it needed to build up its aerial photography capability.
CAP has been providing this service nationally for many years. But most people, outside the aviation community, are unaware that CAP provided the first close-up aerial photos of the crater made by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
Two CAP aircrews trained to complete their qualifications in aerial photography by photographing the Toston Dam, which is north of Three Forks on the Missouri River. Other CAP personnel renewed their mission pilot qualification, or mission observer qualification, or mission scanner qualification. CAP aircrews consist of three to four individuals: one mission pilot, one mission observer, and either one or two mission scanners, depending on the type of aircraft being flown. The Montana Wing of CAP has five Cessna 182 aircraft and one Cessna 206 aircraft and multiple ground vehicles for ground teams. Others trained as radio operators, flight line marshallers, ground team members, and mission support staff.
The incident commander of the Three Forks SARX over the weekend was Lt Col Peter Graf of Missoula, who is a retired military and commercial pilot with over 18,000 hours of flight time logged. The scenario for this practice mission was to take aerial photos to assess the possibility of an ice jam on the Toston Dam for federal and state agencies.
Thirteen air sorties were flown, and four ground sorties were sent out to the field on Saturday. Sunday was used to assess the success of Montana Wing's efforts.
CAP was originally established on Monday, December 1, 1941, by the Office of Civilian Defense, only six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Imperial Japanese Navy.
CAP was legally declared to be the official civilian-volunteer Auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF) in 1948 and has enjoyed that status ever since. CAP also provides an economical "pay-as-you-go" aviation resource for the American Red Cross, United Blood Services, Salvation Army, county sheriffs, and many state and federal agencies, in addition to the USAF.
CAP's Cadet Program is the after-school equivalent of Air Force Junior ROTC and is officially recognized by the USAF. Montana Wing has local CAP squadrons established in Billings, Bozeman, Butte, Great Falls, Helena, Kalispell, and Missoula.
Both pilots, and non-pilots with a love of aviation, can volunteer with CAP. All adult volunteers must be able to pass an FBI background check and be a United States citizen. To volunteer as a CAP mission pilot, you must have at least a private pilot certificate, or higher, with 200 hours of pilot-in-command flight time logged. Montana Wing would also like to recruit volunteers with a remote pilot certificate to operate CAP's small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) for educational and emergency services. Please, contact Captain Austin Troth at Gallatin Composite Squadron at [email protected] for more program information.