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.
ITN News report : http://www.itv.com/news/westcountry/2018-03-04/somerset-from-the-air-as-the-snow-begins-to-thaw/
reserved for item from Graham Mountford re:Beds LRF & Police
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.