CAP-USAF Soars Over Minden
CAP-USAF soars over Minden2nd Lt. Mark Silver On assignment PAO
The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who... looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space... on the infinite highway of the air.
Man’s answer to the birds soaring freely is the sailplane. It is simple. It is aerodynamically clean. There are few instruments needed to make it soar safely: a piece of yarn taped to the canopy is about as simple as an instrument can get. There is no fuel. There is no noisy engine. It is you and the wind. And because it is simple in design it is one of the best aerospace education tools you can use to present flight to eager cadets. It’s this platform on long slender wings that CAP-USAF came to Minden to see the Civil Air Patrol conduct glider training to cadets and seniors alike.
CAP-USAF liaisons are the interface between CAP and the U.S. Air Force. Their job is to look over the programs, equipment, and funding made available to operate CAP. Is CAP being responsible with the assets entrusted to them? Are they providing safe environments and training? Is the senior leadership providing competent skilled personnel with the proper documentation?
They were meeting in Lake Tahoe in May for their week long annual conference, and one of CAP’s best glider programs is only a few miles away in Minden. With this in mind the leadership of the Pacific Region wanted to present CAP-USAF with the glider program at Douglas County Composite Squadron at the Minden-Tahoe airport and show off all they do to achieve CAP goals of unpowered flight. They picked the right place.
Minden sits in prime real estate as far as soaring goes. The longest flight by a sailplane in the northern hemisphere originated here. The attraction of soaring in the area also attracts hundreds of soaring pilots from all over the world, as well as some of the most experienced glider pilots and instructors. Commander Susan Kennedy received the call about offering flight ops for CAP-USAF and turned the project over to Deputy Commander Capt. Fred LaSor. The original request was for flights out of South Lake Tahoe airport but Capt. LaSor ruled that out due to elevation and afternoon density altitude considerations.
With at least 15 CAP-USAF personnel to fly several sorties each it was decided on a briefing one day at the conference and two days of flight ops in Minden. Bob Semans of the Minden Squadron had some vital input with his 60 years’ experience of flying gliders. He also played a key role in obtaining two “loaner” gliders, one from Jean, NV, and one from California Wing.
The briefing commenced with Bob Semans delivering a history of glider flight. Pilot Brad Powell – a former F-15 pilot and current United Airlines captain -- gave his insight on the value the CAP glider program offered him and his family. His passion for the program was clear and his insights into the logistics roadblocks encountered acquiring equipment essential to the success of the program was valuable to the USAF personnel who make this all possible. Fred LaSor laid the ground work for the next day’s operations. Mike Greedy gave a presentation on safety of operation – an important consideration for all CAP’s activities. Mike’s oversight was key to the success with all the moving air craft, ropes, and incoming and outgoing traffic. Now it was up to Mother Nature to cooperate a bit as a cold front had descended and threatened to cancel the plans.
Operations on May 18th proved windy and cold, but within flight constraints. Some hour-long flights with altitudes reaching 3,000 feet above launch were attained after being towed by one of the three CAP Cessna 182’s. May 19th operations were better with calm air and bright blue Nevada skies. Eric Strotz ran the ground game as Supervisor of Flying under the watchful eye of Mike Greedy attentive to safety issues. The first flights demonstrated simulated tow line breaks with quick turnaround from low altitude back to the runway. Trading cargo planes and helicopters for wing and wind, CAP-USAF took to the skies with great eagerness.
Deputy Commander CAP-USAF Lt. Col Sammy Pierce commented to a local TV news crew that this was the “purest form of flying, just you, a wing, and air”. He goes on to say “We’re responsible to look over the shoulder of CAP and it’s hard to monitor them if you don’t understand what they’re doing. These guys are spot on. What these guys are teaching us is how to read the environment and stay airborne without an engine. I’ve never before had to find a way to climb without a motor.” Bob Semans added to that, saying “If you learn to fly a glider, you’ll be a better pilot. The gliders are aerodynamically clean.”
Fred LaSor credits members like Eric Stroz and Brad Powell for being “spark-plugs” and expanding the glider program and its many benefits to the cadets. It’s a real team effort for this program to succeed. Tow Pilots, glider instructors, ground personnel, and safety mesh into successful flights. Minden was up to the task of showing the “right stuff” to CAP-USAF.