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Practice Leads to Improvement in Deer Valley FTX/OpEx

By Lt. Col. Gordon Helm

On August 28, cadets and senior members of Deer Valley Composite Squadron 302 conducted a joint cadet Field Training Exercise and a realistic simulation for Emergency Services air crew training. Included in the training was a visual search to locate a simulated downed aircraft by ground search and utilizing small Unmanned Aerial Systems to localize the target for the searchers. To help in coordinating the search was the first field use of a mobile CAPLink radio system for air/ground/sUAS communications.

1st Lts. Mike Ricker and Frank Arvizu planned and conducted the FTX. They coordinated the OpEx with Capt. Steve Barnes of emergency services and Capt. Brian Tucek who leads the Arizona Wing’s sUAS program. Maj. Chris Dusard, who developed the CAPLink system, trained the members on its setup in the field. Maj. Ruben Kafenbaum coordinated the radios, as the communications unit leader. Ricker coordinated the setup of the simulated crash site and the 121.775 MHz beacon Emergency Locator Transmitter.

Cadet Chief Master Sgt. Caleb Miller was the noncommissioned officer in charge of the cadets. “Cadet Miller’s performance was excellent in his first large-scale FTX,” Ricker said.

With late August weather in central Arizona, the FTX/OpEx was planned to get started very early to beat the expected triple-digit heat. Cadets and senior members bunked in the Deer Valley Squadron building the night before, eating pizza and watching a movie before sleep. At 4:30 a.m., they were on their way, heading north on Interstate 17 toward the planned FTX area near Camp Verde.

What they didn’t expect on their way to the training search area was coming upon an accident that had just happened.

As the three-vehicle convoy reached the top of the Mogollon Rim, near Sunset Point, they came upon a two-vehicle accident that had happened just seconds before – the dust was still settling. Squadron members immediately stopped to render aid in the pre-dawn darkness.

“Lts. Arvizu and Patrick Sliney deserve special recognition for both securing the safety of our cadets and then assessing the injuries of the three people at the accident scene,” said Ricker. “One of the vehicles was still partially on the roadway, and Lt. Arvizu directed traffic around the scene until the Yavapai County Sheriff’s deputy arrived.”

At one point, the three senior members needed extra help for a less seriously injured victim. “We called upon the cadets to provide assistance and they performed as we all hope for … with excellence,” Ricker said.

The deputy asked squadron members to continue to assist at the accident scene for almost an hour until more help and emergency medical service vehicles could arrive.

Once released, the members continued to their destination, an hour behind schedule. Upon arrival, they set up the base camp and CAPLink radio in preparation for the OpEx portion of the training. An aircrew flying CAP255 from Prescott Composite Squadron 206 was the first to relay lines of position to locate the “missing aircraft” target. Cadets were trained in using the Foxhunt app to pinpoint a target, and quickly plotted the transmitted lines. Their lines resulted in a calculated center 4.5 miles away from the actual location. A second aircraft, CAP230 with a Deer Valley Squadron aircrew, was next on scene and transmitted a series of lines of position that resulted in a center one-quarter mile from the actual site. They were then directed to fly over the simulated crash site and located it from the air.

“CAP230 did an exceptional job of guiding the ground assets to the target site,” Ricker said. “We could not visually see the site from the road and the crew was able to guide us to within 500 feet of the target. We also requested they provide general air support and look for a possible helicopter landing location. They provided guidance for us to the possible landing site.”

Once the “crash site” was found, the cadets then learned that some of the “victims” had left the area and needed to be located by ground search. The sUAS team members set up their drones while the cadets began a “bounding overwatch” search. The cadets and the sUAS team located the missing victims a short distance away at about the same time.

That completed the OpEx portion of the training. The cadets and FTX senior members returned to their base camp for more field training and radio practice. They were fed lunch by Arvizu’s brother, Jose Arvizu, and had some relaxation time by a stream before packing up and heading home.

The FTX team was also tasked to perform some initial field tests with the newly developed mobile CAPLink. While there were some issues with the transmit function, the unit showed significant field capability and reception quality was exceptional.

There were many lessons learned during the FTX that will be added to the planning for the next one.

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