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CAP members train with latest aviation technology

Temperatures at Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport temperatures broke 50 degrees earlier this month and anticipation of spring is in the air for lakes area residents.

There’s also something exciting in the air for the professionally trained volunteers of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), who have been the “eyes in the skies” for more than a half-century at the airport. CAP’s past history of community service may be the area’s “best kept secret,” but is well-known among the airport community.

“As airport manager, I am very proud to have such an active and growing CAP squadron based on our field,” Airport Manager Jeff Wig said. “Not only do the squadron cadets and seniors assist with airport events, but they also serve as respected representatives of our airport in numerous community events and provide vital search-and-rescue assistance to law enforcement.”

With the recent assignment of a 2012 Cessna 182 Skylane airplane, Crow Wing Squadron CAP members have their gaze confidently trained on the future. Equipped with latest Garmin G1000 GPS technology and “glass cockpit” instrumentation, the fixed-wing plane has created quite a stir among the airport community.

“Having a new aircraft with the latest generation navigational systems will be a tremendous training tool for the cadets and seniors who want to take advantage of the flight opportunities CAP provides,” Wig said.

The G1000 is a two-display integrated flight instrument system which replaces the older style flight instruments. It necessitated advanced training for CAP pilots, who already undergo rigorous additional training and check flights to fly for CAP.

Fourteen privately licensed pilots are members of Crow Wing Squadron, and 11 of those fly actively for CAP. Several hold additional certifications, including instructor and instrument ratings. In addition to training to use the new Cessna’s advanced technology, CAP pilots have been transitioning to use of electronic tablets (similar to an iPad) for everything from weather reports to maps.

Former Squadron Commander and longtime CAP pilot Major Marcel Kobberdahl likened the extra pilot training required by CAP to getting a new license each year since there have been so many recent updates and improvements in the latest systems.

“We are all happy to be able to serve our community and country and keep up with our pilot skills,” Kobberdahl said. “CAP has settled on the Cessna 172, and now the Cessna 182, as their mainstay to perform and train for our missions. These missions include search and rescue, counter-drug, fire watch, cadet and ROTC O-Flights, and other government support programs.”

CAP pilot Maj. Jacob Heffron, who joined CAP at the age of 11, experienced first-hand the many flight opportunities CAP provided. Each cadet member is eligible for five hours of free Orientation Flight (O-Flight) instruction, provided by six of the Crow Wing pilots. In addition, other flight time is provided for members when available through regional flight academies, national schools, or special mission training.

Heffron obtained his private pilot’s license at the age of 18 through CAP-sponsored training. Now a senior member and newly appointed squadron commander, Heffron has continued CAP’s rigorous pilot training, as well as recently obtaining his commercial-rated pilots license.

Appreciative of the volunteer instructors from CAP who helped him learn to fly, Heffron is working toward becoming a certified flight instructor so he can give back to the community as well. Until that dream takes flight, he pilots cadet O-Flights and assists CAP’s pilot instructor Lon Koppes with a weekly ground school for cadet and senior members.

Recent weather the past week allowed for the Orientation Flight Program to resume after a tough winter season. Cadets made good use of spring break days and daylight saving time hours as they reported to the airport for their flights.

There’s “something in the air” at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, all right. It’s the citizen-volunteers of CAP in the red, white, and blue Cessna 182 training with the latest technology for the service of community, state, and nation.

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with 60,000 members nationwide, operating a fleet of 550 aircraft. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs about 85 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as assigned by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 71 lives annually. Its unpaid professionals also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to more than 25,000 young people currently participating in the CAP cadet programs. CAP received the World Peace Prize in 2011 and has been performing missions for America for 72 years. CAP also participates in Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. Interested persons may visit or for more information, or for contact information.

CINDY McCARTHY is public affairs officer for the Crow Wing Composite Squadron, Civil Air Patrol.