Texas Wing Mountain Search and Rescue Exercise

In memory of Lt. Col. Gwynn Groggle and Lt. Col. Henry “Jack” Jackson.

Thou art an eagle, thou doest belong to the sky and not to the earth, stretch forth thy wings and fly.    — Paul H Dunn

ALPINE, Texas – Texas Wing landscape is as diverse as it 3,000 plus volunteers. From the coastline of the Gulf of Mexico to the plains of the Panhandle, Civil Air Patrol pilots in Texas must learn how to fly over terrain from sea level to the highest elevation of 8.751 ft. in the Guadalupe Mountains.

Flying at a higher elevation with mountains and canyons not far below can put the pilot in as much danger as the person or aircraft they are looking for, so it is important that aircrews train where they might have to search.

“Flying the mountainous terrain contains a significant number of issues that we do not encounter in the flat lands,” said Maj. George V. Otto, incident commander.

– Incident Commander Maj. George V. Otto from Kerrville Composite Squadron welcomes everyone to the Texas Wing Mountain Search and Rescue Exercise in Alpine.

– Incident Commander Maj. George V. Otto from Kerrville Composite Squadron welcomes everyone to the Texas Wing Mountain Search and Rescue Exercise in Alpine.

“While we don’t get called to conduct missions in the mountains frequently, if we are going to be prepared for such missions, we must maintain our proficiency so that we can handle all of our missions safely.”

Each year since 1975, Texas Wing pilots have headed to the Davis Mountains for the Mountain Search and Rescue Exercise for training in safe mountain flying techniques, en route navigation and visual terrain search.  Also, aircrews and staff personnel get a chance to train in the unique environment.

Pilots from around the wing attended the annual exercise in Alpine, April 29 to May 1, to receive initial training for their mountain flying certification or to recertify.  Initial training consists of online lessons that were completed before arriving and four hours of classroom instruction Saturday morning and a check ride that afternoon.

Maj. Otto was pleased with the outcome of the exercise this year. “For those that were able to attend the training, we accomplished everything we set out to do. All who came for initial training completed their qualification – classroom and flying.  For those who came to requalify, all were requalified.”

The number of participants and aircraft that were available were down from previous years but not due to lack of interest. Severe weather on the eastern side of the state from Dallas to Houston kept many volunteers from the exercise.

According to Maj. Otto almost the same number of initial trainees participated as last year, but there were fewer mountain qualified participants and fewer aircraft available so that presented a challenge.

Another challenge was the lack of C-172s. “We have a lot of pilots in Texas who are only qualified in the C-172,” said Otto. “Thus having aircraft for all the training made scheduling difficult.”

Challenges aside, the weekend exercise was able to recertify 3 pilots and 8 received their initial certification. Second Lt. Mark Chin was one of the pilots to receive his initial certification.

“I found it to be a rewarding experience,” said 2nd Lt. Chin from the 441st Composite given the headaches caused by the fickle spring weather and the recent floods in Houston.” He hopes to return next year and be a safety pilot training the next generation of mission pilots.

Second Lt. Mark C. Chin (on right), 441st Composite Squadron, pilots the aircraft on his initial mountain certification flight with Lt. Col. Don R. Fisher, Baytown Senior Squadron, along as safety pilot.

Second Lt. Mark C. Chin (on right), 441st Composite Squadron, pilots the aircraft on his initial mountain certification flight with Lt. Col. Don R. Fisher, Baytown Senior Squadron, along as safety pilot.

Even though the focus is on flying, aircrews and support staff also spent the weekend training.  An aircrew flew highbird continuously throughout the day to provide communications between the pilots and the airport.

Air operation branch directors, mission radio operators, mission staff assistants, observers, planning section chiefs, safety officer, safety pilots and scanners all play and integral part in making sure the pilots receive the best and safest training possible.

A pilot prepares to take off from the Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport in Alpine, Texas.

A pilot prepares to take off from the Alpine-Casparis Municipal Airport in Alpine, Texas.