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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 has members at 2 bases in the North East of England, at Eshott airfield near to Morpeth in Northumberland and at Shotton airfield near to Peterlee in County Durham. The point of contact at Eshott is Storm Smith and at Shotton it is Tony Cowan. The area covered is from the River Tees in the south to the Scottish Border in the north. This area includes the whole of County Durham, Teesside and Northumberland. If requested, parts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria may also be covered. There are 3 individual police forces, Cleveland Police, Durham Constabulary and Northumbria Police. The National Police Air Service (NPAS) has a base at Newcastle Airport with the next nearest NPAS base at Wakefield, south of Leeds. The closest Coastguard SAR helicopter base is at Humberside Airport. The Civil Air Patrol in the North East has cordial relations with all 3 police forces and, in particular, Durham Constabulary. Durham Constabulary has, in collaboration with the Durham & Darlington Fire and Rescue Service, formed a drone unit with the DJI Inspire and 2x cameras. One is a HD video camera and the other a thermal imager. Although completely autonomous, the police and the fire service in County Durham have identical small unmanned aircraft (drones) so that they can share equipment, share ideas and share maintenance. The CAP in the North East has a standing invitation to join Durham Constabulary and Durham & Darlington FRS when they take part in training exercises with their drones. The CAP in the North East also has a good relationship with HM Coastguard and the Durham & Darlington FRS.

Sky Watch CAP in the North East is represented on a number of committees by Tony Cowan. First there is the Volunteer Emergency Liaison Group (VELG), a sub-committee of the Durham & Darlington Local Resilience Forum (LRF) which meets every quarter. The LRF is chaired by the chief constable of Durham Constabulary, Mr Mike Barton. More recently a second VELG has been formed for those members of the voluntary sector who interact with the unitary authorities of Gateshead, Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside and Sunderland. All of these unitary authorities are policed by Northumbria Police. This VELG was formed in the latter part of 2017 by Gateshead Civil Contingencies Unit and the CAP was invited to join. CAP member, Tony Cowan also represents the members of the Durham & Darlington VELG at the LRF Training & Exercise Group (TEG) which is chaired by a senior officer from the Durham & Darlington FRS. Also, in 2017, the local Coast Manager for HM Coastguard Region 2, Area 5, from Robin Hoods Bay, near Whitby, to Berwick on Tweed, at the Scottish Border, formed 3 local search and rescue liaison committees for sub-areas Amble, Tyne and Whitby. CAP currently belongs to 2 of the 3 SAR liaison committees, those that cover the areas Tyne and Whitby. As part of its collaboration efforts CAP also took part in Exercise Northumberland, organized by the Centre for Search Research to compare the effectiveness of various search methodologies. This exercise took place over the weekend of 6-7 May 2017 in a remote area of Northumberland with the manned aircraft from the CAP using Eshott airfield as a forward operating base. The CAP contributed 3x manned aircraft. A Vans RV12 from Perth in Scotland, a Cessna C-210 from Turweston in Hertfordshire and a Robinson R22 helicopter from Sywell in Northamptonshire. The CAP also deployed a small unmanned aircraft (drone), a DJI Inspire. An additional 2x drones, one fixed-wing and one rotary, were provided by QuestUAV based in Amble, Northumberland, and the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team (NNPMRT). A ground search team and an air scenting dog, both from the NNPMRT, also took part in this major exercise to update the ‘O’Donnell Theory’ of 1987-88. The formal report of this exercise highlighted the efficiency and effectiveness of air searches.

Both Eshott and Shotton have ‘hard’ runways and during periods of severe weather, particularly heavy snow, which can often precede severe flooding, a number of ‘snow patrols’ have been flown over the high ground in upper Teesdale and Weardale. One of these patrols used the highest pub in Great Britain, at Tan Hill, as a navigation point. The subsequent photograph was forwarded to the local press and television. A more recent exercise, in good weather, involved HM Coastguard and the Durham & Darlington FRS in a joint cliff rescue at one of the high cliffs on the North East coast. In the absence of a drone the CAP provided photographic images of the exercise taking place. A further event, organized by Cleveland Police was a ‘Show and Tell’ training day for members of the ‘blue light’ emergency services, including HM Coastguard and a local NHS Hazardous Area Response Team (HART), together with RNLI Lifeguards and, from the voluntary sector, the CAP, the Cleveland MRT.

Two areas of special interest for the CAP over many years have been direct radio communications between an aircraft flown on behalf of the CAP and search personnel on the ground, together with the timely distribution of digital images from the aircraft at the scene of an incident to potential ‘customers’; those ‘customers’ who would benefit from what Sir Michael Pitt, the author of the ‘Pitt Report’ that followed the disastrous floods of 2007, described as ‘visualisation’. With regard to radio communication the CAP in the North East is collaborating with the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team (TWSMRT) and HM Coastguard to develop a digital mobile radio (DMR) network, referred to as ‘High Band’, which also extends into the maritime VHF band. In the future digital images will be distributed with a combination of a mobile ‘smart’ telephone camera, together with a more conventional digital camera with a zoom lens, to the government secure website, Resilience Direct. Both of these initiatives, radio communications and the timely distribution of digital images, are regarded to be fundamental to the success of the CAP, both locally and nationally, and both will be the focus of development in the North East in the coming year.

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