While skies were clear across much of the Triangle on Saturday, members of the North Carolina Wing of the Civil Air Patrol responded to Hurricane Chihuahua.
The hurricane formed south of the Bahamas, made landfall in South Carolina and had worked its way across North Carolina and up into Virginia.
“So we are simulating our response of what we would do in the case of a simulated emergency,” said Jay Langley, commander of the Raleigh Wake Composite Squadron, which has about 120 members.
The simulation was part of a statewide search and rescue Civil Air Patrol exercise Saturday. About 14 aircraft and 100 Civil Air Patrol members from across the state participated in the quarterly training that included aircraft missions and ground searches for missing aircraft or persons.
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About 30 people, mainly from the Raleigh squadron, spent from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. at Raleigh-Durham International Airport’s General Aviation Terminal honing their skills to respond to emergencies.
“We are on call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” said Civil Air Patrol Lt. Col. Lisa Armour, 52, of Durham. That means, at any moment, the all-volunteer organization may be called in to help locate a missing plane or a lost individual, to assess damage or help in other ways after a natural disaster.
Members, who can spend from a few hours a month to dozens depending on their chosen level of participation, said they joined to serve the community and in search of camaraderie and a shared interest in aerospace.
Langley of Raleigh joined in 1987 while in flight school. One of the students in his class had engine failure and his plane went down. Langley’s classmate survived after the Civil Air Patrol was able to find him in hours.
“I said, ‘Man I want to be part of this organization,’ ” said Langley, who owns a direct mail company. “I got involved immediately and have been involved ever since.”
In response to Hurricane Chihuahua, Timothy Tessin, Stephen Risoff and Joseph Rogers Jr. took off in the single-engine Cessna 172 to observe and take aerial photographs of power lines in five areas about 50 miles west of the airport. Tessin was the pilot.
The Civil Air Patrol, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, was created just before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 after aviation enthusiasts sought a way to use their planes to defend their country. In 1948, the U.S. Congress passed a law establishing the Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary to the U.S. Air Force. The Civil Air Patrol’s missions include aerospace education, cadet programs and emergency services.
The state wing has 38 squadrons, 864 members and 889 cadets – members age 12 to 20 – according to 2015 statistics.
In 2015, the state Civil Air Patrol was credited with saving two lives and 11 search and rescue finds.
In the Civil Air Patrol’s office in the General Aviation Terminal on Saturday, some members sat through training sessions, learning about procedures in searching for a missing person or an emergency location transmitter, which puts out a distress signal after a plane crash.
Others went out and searched for a hidden transmitter.
Cadets Ari Brown, 18, Brannan Massey, 19, and Michael Powell, 15, watched as Maj. Rick Laviano read a device that signaled whether they were getting closer to a transmitter in the woods.
Brown, a Clayton resident and a sophomore at N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University, said he joined at age 12 to learn more about aviation, but his interest shifted to emergency services and leadership opportunities.
Brown has risen from cadet airman to flight sergeant, flight commander, executive officer and then cadet commander.
“I would say the biggest thing my experience in the program has taught (is) the mechanics, sort of the ins and outs of leading people,” he said.
The cadets said their experiences have included learning about cybersecurity and aerospace, which includes flights in airplanes.
“Those are fun because you get to learn about the fundamentals of the aircraft itself,” Powell said. “How to use it.”