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Danville Civil Air Patrol has seven new drone pilots

June 10, 2021

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DANVILLE, Va. – On Sunday afternoon, June 6th, 2021, a search and rescue ground team from the Civil Air Patrol’s (CAP) Danville Composite Squadron (United States Air Force Auxiliary) was tasked with locating a hidden object in a remote area ten miles east of the city as part of a training exercise.  The team included cadets (ages 12-18) and senior members (age 18 and over).  In the past, these “objects” have been downed aircraft or people with dementia lost in the woods.  When you are searching for people—especially injured people—their survival depends primarily on how quicky you can find them.

      During the training, the team reached the edge of woods with rough terrain straight ahead and thick underbrush that offered plenty of thorns and very little visibility of what would be crawling on the ground.  The team wanted to locate their target, but their top priority is the safety of the team.  Normally, they would get on a radio and communicate with a CAP airplane to get assistance with finding the target, as well as provide crucial information about their surroundings and how to proceed safely to the target.  Once located, they can render assistance to a victim, while reporting what they have found to their mission base. There was no airplane assigned to this mission.  Under normal circumstances, they would very carefully move ahead.  Instead, today, because the Danville squadron had just completed small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), aka “drone” training, they are able to receive assistance rapidly. 

    The ground team communicated to the remote mission base, and within just a couple of minutes, a drone was reassuringly hovering overhead, assessing their condition, scanning the area for any possible threats, and helping to quickly find the target and a safe route into it. The information the drone provided, by way of radio communication with the team that launched it, raised the ground team’s situational awareness, and their safety level, exponentially. Seven members in total are qualified to fly drones so far in the squadron.

      The Danville squadron had been very excited about CAP’s relatively new sUAS program and had expressed an interest in it to Lt. Col. Bruce Munger, the Virginia Wing’s sUAS project leader.

      The squadron members who wanted to become qualified as pilots had spent May 29th and 30th in virtual training, participating in online study and tests, and followed up with in-person training on June 5th and 6th.   Four of the newly qualified pilots are teenagers.  For them, it is like playing a video game that’s real. Cadet Chief Master Sergeant Kayleigh Morris had never flown a drone before and didn’t know what to expect, but she said “It was easy.  And fun.  I’m glad I decided to do this.”  Cadet Senior Airman Aaron Chivvis had no problem with learning “the bird”, since he has one.  “I like the computers stuff too,” he shared.  His dad was one of the first to fly drones for the Danville Police Department, and the “computer stuff” is the software training that comes with it, where they can take drone pictures and create 3D images that will be crucial after a hurricane destroys an area.  Flying the drone can get accurate 3D images of what is left to help damage assessment specialists.

     The Danville squadron senior members who take cadets on ground search and rescue teams enjoyed the flying, but were even more impressed with the high level of safety and awareness the drones provide for themselves and the cadets entrusted to their care.  Captain David Hutcheson was on the ground team and said, “when that drone appeared, in my mind, the whole situation changed.  I thought ‘they can see us and everything around us.  We’re good.”

For More Information:

Capt. David Hutcheson – david.hutcheson@vawg.cap.gov  / 434-549-3969

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