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Articles from England & Wales

News of SWCAP's activity.

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Did the earth move for you too?

Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue requested the assistance of SWCAP to help them plan an exercise involving the major redevelopment of the A14. The massive construction project has changed the face of the area around the current road to such an extent that the current maps do not include the changed road layout etc.

Not surprisingly the Cambridgeshire Fire & Rescue Service needs to have a good understanding of access points to the development and changes to the road layout affecting the local area.

The Eastern Area of SWCAP was able to assist with two crews flying early morning missions (to give an indication of the traffic congestion that would be part of the equation for an exercise) to obtain images of the work between Huntingdon and Cambridge. The images were all geocoded to allow the FRS to locate the individual camera positions to give them perspective on each photograph. Please see our Photo Gallery for photos of some very impressive civil engineering. 

From request to images ready for delivery took just 48hours, which is an indication of the dedication and commitment of SWCAP members.

The SW Area of the UK Civil Air Patrol offered their services to both Somerset and Dorset County Council Local Resilience Forums to assist with air search observation and reporting following the forecast heavy snow of March 1st. The CAP was put on formal standby on the 28th Feb.

The weather was unflyable whilst the heavy snow was falling on the 1st March. The airfield at Westonzoyland was subsequently inspected during the afternoon of March 2nd. The snow was generally 4 to 6 in deep but with some drifting up to 10 in. Freezing rain was falling, and the top surface of the snow had a crust of ice. The weather was unflyable for light aircraft. However, a thaw was due to set in on 3rd March.

The 3rd March turned out to be an interesting day! An ops room was set up in the flying club at Westonzoyland run by one of the Observers - Nick van der Bijl. Nick is ex army and did an excellent job. He maintained contact with Somerset CC duty officer and together with the pilots worked out a plan for search operations. He also manned the AG radio in the club house (under supervision of one of the club pilots). His army training and background proved to be a great asset.

It was hoped to get a snow plough to clear a runway, but they were busy elsewhere so we did our best with a couple of 4x4s. The heavier aircraft however, could not cope with the snow and slush. A flag marker was placed 2/3 down the runway to remind pilots to abort if they did not have flying speed, and the Technam with a 100 hp Rotax could not achieve the acceleration needed. However, the much lighter Rans S6 with an 80HP Rotax was no problem. With a 15kt head wind the pilot was able to lift the tail off the ground whilst holding against the brakes at full power. That resulted in 2 wheels on the ground producing much less drag on the takeoff roll than the tricycle types, as can be seen from the attached video the aircraft was easily airborne 1/2 way along the runway even with a TV reporter and his kit (but with only 1/3 fuel to keep the weight down). An earlier flight had been flown solo to check the feasibility of getting safely airborne in the snow and to check the weather, particularly cloudbase and visibility.

In addition to the task of checking snow coverage and road conditions etc. A search was made of the coast and inshore waters in the vicinity of Burnham on sea for a missing person. That was a continuation of a Police request for help earlier in the week when a CAP aircraft flown by Arthur Hughes and observer Eric Tallintyre carried out a search mission before the snow arrived. Regretably nothing was seen of the missing person on either flight.

The heaviest snowfall was over the Quantock hills in the southern part of the search area. The minor roads were observed to be mainly passable with vehicle tracks clearly visible. The main routes were fairly clear although the M5 motorway was down to 2 lanes with the outer lanes still snow covered.

Over the top of the hills the snow cover was heavy and the few roads crossing appeared blocked but with no sign of trapped vehicles. However flying conditions were rapidly deteriorating and the aircraft encountered blizzard conditions which necessitated an abandonment of the search and a rapid exit to the north to clear the falling snow.

A few photographs of the operation can be found in the gallery section of the web site.

ITN News report :

John Cairns the Area Chief Pilot for the South East region of SWCAP is not just an eye in the sky he is currently working with around 30 young people on the Isle of Wight to engage them an ambitious engineering project.

As for so many areas the IoW has a problem with youth unemployment and all that this brings with it. As part of the overall initiative to combat the negative influences of unemployment, drugs and alcohol and to give more of a sense of community, John is leading a project to build a Sherwood Ranger 2-seat biplane at Bembridge Airfield.

If you would like to know more about this project or to get involved please contact John by email on

The Sherwood Ranger offers day VFR flight capability and STOL performance from hard, grass and unprepared strips. It’s rugged and durable fuselage crafted in Norfolk from aircraft grade aluminium tube and steel provides its occupants with a high level of comfort and safety. The traditional tailwheel undercarriage deals with the rigours of less than perfect runways whilst it’s steerable tailwheel and differential brakes providing superb ground handling.

The Sky Watch Civil Air Patrol joined a number of emergency services in a multiagency exercise at Cranfield Airport in mid October to provide aviation input to the operation and to trial the use of Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (drones to you and me) in managing an accident scene.

The incident was around an aircraft that had a major failure on take-off and managed to stop while still on the runway. Unfortunately this was not without damage to the aircraft which resulted in a fuel spill and injury to a number of the 13 people on board.

THE EXERCISE Cranfield University provided two airframes (one intact and one considerably less so). The fuel containment and passenger evacuation was initially carried out on the first aircraft. The exercise them switched to the second aircraft where the fire service was required to extract two severely injured people using cutting and lifting gear. The final stage involved the process necessary to deal with a fatality which required the involvement of the police as for the management of a potential crime scene.

Members from the Eastern Area attended the exercise to explore the practicalities and value of deploying drones to assist the incident commander in the management of the operation. Both normal cameras and Infra-red cameras were used. The normal cameras to provide a bird’s eye view of deployment and the IR camera was used to scan the incident and surrounding area for heat sources. The object being to detect early indication of fire at the incident and to locate any “victims” that may have self-evacuated from the crash and become disorientated or ill.

The exercise demonstrated that the use of drones under the direct direction of the incident commander had significant possibilities and needed to be developed further. It also highlighted a number of communication and control issues for operating drones in an incident area that need to be further explored.

Some pictures from the exercise can be found in the on-line gallery on this web site.
Jump to Gallery.

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