Okla. Wing Conducts 1st sUAS Exercise
2nd Lt. Eric Holtzclaw
Emergency Services Officer
Enid Composite Squadron
Scenarios involving a dam collapse and a missing hiker in dense forest tested members from six Oklahoma Wing units participating in the wing’s first ever sUAS (small unmanned Aerial System) training exercise, held in Stroud.
The exercise involved:
- A large-scale grid mapping assessment of a simulated dam collapse and immediate surveying efforts to determine how to best repair it.
- Mapping a mostly dense forest area to locate a stranded, unconscious hiker.
Because of the dense forest line complicating the search, the pilot and technician trainees were tasked with mapping the area from overhead and returning to base camp to evaluate the data and photography. They then downloaded the images to mapping software, which transformed them into readable photos that could be scrutinized individually for the hiker’s presence.
Once the hiker was located, the coordinates were given to a ground search team. After a quick deployment, the team reached the target and provided assistance.
The exercise participants came from the Edmond, Enid, Muskogee Nighthawks and Starbase composite squadrons, the Council Oak Senior Squadron and the Grove Flight. They “were evaluated on their ability to assess and locate damaged facilities, unconscious hikers in deep woods, mapping operations and link ground support teams in rescue efforts,” said Maj. Jason Unwin, Muskogee Nighthawks Composite Squadron public affairs officer, who served as project coordinator and heads the Oklahoma Wing’s training efforts.
“All in all, the exercise was a success. We learned a lot and noted several areas where we can improve and fine-tune,” said Maj. Rick Gorman, exercise evaluator as well as the Edmond unit’s assistant operations officer.
“It was great to be part of this kind of training,” said Cadet Senior Airman Angeleena Sowell of the Muskogee squadron. “I feel that drone missions more and more are the future of what Civil Air Patrol will do in searching for lost persons and getting close looks at things after storm damages.”
Looking forward, Unwin said, “It is our hope to fully staff at least 10 sUAS teams across the state, which would include pilot and technicians to add to the Oklahoma Wing’s search, rescue and disaster recovery efforts.
“Bringing the sUAS capabilities will save money, time and provide a broader capability that, sometimes, manned fixed aircraft cannot do,” he said.
Several squadrons are in the sUAS training and development phase, Unwin said, adding that the need for trained sUAS pilots and a commitment by senior members are critical.
Certain prerequisites must be met before CAP will allow the use of drones, but the applications are widespread and vital, he said. The aircraft can be used for search and recovery, mapping and damage assessment after storms, photography and reconstruction analysis.