I took the afternoon off from work today to finally fly the river reconnaissance mission. I was first called a week ago, but bad weather and schedule problems had scotched two previous attempts. Today, the weather finally cleared, but we had to wait until afternoon since George Bush was in town stumping. (Since 9/11, anywhere the Prez goes is subject to a 30-mile no-fly zone, which not even the C.A.P. can violate.)
So the flight restriction lifted at 12:25, and I lifted off at 12:30 to head north. I picked up my crew, the Wyoming Country EMA director and his deputy; they had asked us to assist them with some waterway management problems which had cropped up after the tropical storms of September. They brought a video camera and a laptop, and a list of trouble sites where the creeks had jumped banks; we were also looking for debris in the Susquehanna River, missing oil and LP tanks.
I briefed the guys and got them strapped in. I always give a careful briefing when flying with inexperienced flyers, and let them know that we could land any time if they were uncomfortable. With all their gear stowed in easy reach, we took off heavy from the short runway and climbed low over downtown Tunkhannock (luckily, the traffic light was green...) and headed downriver to the county border.
We had good visibility and began noting possible targets for investigation later; I used the GPS unit in the panel to mark the coordinates. The river bends and curves back on itself up there, and the terrain grew more rugged as we worked upriver. Often I had to circle 270 degrees to keep the river in clear view, or stay up-sun. While the EMA guys worked, I kept my attention on the mountaintops - cell phone towers are everywhere, and in some places power lines cross the river. But the scenery was beautiful, the last blaze of fall colors, and I watched our shadow rise and fall as we crossed each ridge.
After nearly two hours, we had accomplished enough, and I put on speed and altitude to head back to the airport. As we headed south, we saw the President's two huge cargo planes climbing away from Scranton. The EMA folks were very happy; they remarked on how much they could see, and how well I hugged the river, and how smooth the flight was. (Well, they did; why should I be modest?) I took their picture next to the plane, and asked them to think of us again if they needed help.
Anyway, another mission accomplished by the intrepid aviators of the Civil Air Patrol, "Eyes of the Home Skies". (Dramatic music here.) To pile cliché on cliché, I actually touched down at sunset. Let's end the video there - not ten minutes later, when I slipped in the wet grass pushing the plane back into its tiedown.