11:38 AM

Civil Air Patrol Using New Tool to Help Document California Wildfires

MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala.Civil Air Patrol’s California Wing is using new technology to help document the devastation from deadly October wildfires in California.

It’s called an Aeroptic Sensor Pod, a leading edge tactical aerial imagery system attached to one of the wing’s Cessna 182s. The sensor system provides rapid access to visual and multi-spectral data of the damage wrought by the wildfires, which, according to CAL FIRE reports, have destroyed 8,900 structures and claimed 43 lives.

“The Aeroptic Sensor we have as a demo for 45 days was installed by Ivan Air to support a test last week,” said John Desmarais, CAP’s director of operations. “The imagery mosaic provided by the new camera system has been well received by Federal Emergency Management Agency staff, and they have asked us to re-fly several areas.”

CAP aircrews in California are flying again this week, as most of the fires are starting to be contained. “This imagery from the plane equipped with the Aeroptic Sensor, as well as photos previously taken with the wing’s traditional Garmin VIRB cameras, will still be needed to assist with determining access to federal assistance,” said Desmarais.

The California Wing has been supporting FEMA’s recovery efforts at the behest of 1st Air Force, operating from a temporary incident command post at Livermore Municipal Airport to accommodate aerial imagery flights to the areas of the Combined Fire in Santa Rosa and Northern California, then moving to Riverside Municipal Airport to photograph the area affected by the Southern Fires in Orange County in Southern California.

To date, the CAP photographic coverage in California has resulted in about 140 flights over the past 11 days, providing roughly 6,000 photos using Garmin VIRB cameras, mounted under the wing of several CAP aircraft.

“All feedback I have received directly from FEMA is that they are very happy with our work and the product we have been supplying them,” said Lt. Col. Joe Brickman, ops director for the California Wing. “Our photos have been instrumental in helping FEMA make damage assessments of these burn areas.”

CAP and FEMA officials believe use of the Aeroptic Sensor will provide the next generation of aerial photos.

”The Aeroptic Sensor is mounted on the step of the right strut of the aircraft,” said Brickman. “The camera can be flown at varying altitudes, ranging from 2,000 to 5,000 feet, depending on the ground covered. The camera imagery is also ortho-rectified to make it easier for FEMA to analyze the data and will be more effective for their damage assessment.”

Flying with the Aeroptic Sensor Pod does require some practice, according to Brickman, adding that aircrews from the California Wing are “humbled” to be the first to test this new system and to serve in this mission.

“The devastating fires here in California have affected everyone in some way, but we all came together to do our part,” he said. “Everyone is working to achieve one goal — to help FEMA support the communities that have been so devastated. I am so proud of the Airmen of the California Wing.”

Civil Air Patrol, the longtime all-volunteer U.S. Air Force auxiliary, is the newest member of the Air Force’s Total Force. In this role, CAP operates a fleet of 560 aircraft, performs about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and is credited by the AFRCC with saving an average of 80 lives annually. CAP’s 57,000 members also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. CAP also plays a leading role in aerospace/STEM education, and its members serve as mentors to 24,000 young people participating in CAP’s Cadet Programs. Visit www.GoCivilAirPatrol.com for more information.