What is “High Bird”?

  • Lt. Col Blaze Cunningham
  • 1Lt Karen Barrie

A missing airplane brought about a massive search and rescue operation for many units of Minnesota Civil Air Patrol. On 17 October, our airplane left Red Wing and flew to Brainerd. The weather was nearly perfect and nice sunshine, clear skies, and no wind made it a nice flight. After our briefing at mission base, we departed for our flying assignment: High Bird

A large search area had brought together a number of ground teams and air crews from all over the state. Most of these sorties were searching in grids, or along highways located very distant from the communications center at Brainerd CAP headquarters. The VHF radio-equipped vans and airplanes were struggling to make contact with mission base COM center. The solution to the problem was to launch an airplane to be “ears in the sky,” and relay the messages between the search crews and mission base.

Mission base instructed us to fly about twenty miles northwest of Brainerd and orbit the area at 8,000 feet. At that altitude, the range of the radio would be significantly increased. Soon after we reached our position, the radio came alive with messages for us. We had no idea where most of the radio traffic was coming from, but we needed to be in the middle and concentrate on keeping things moving.

Much of the time we were relaying check-in calls, as every unit is required to make a call every half-hour. Other times, we had new instructions for a search team, maybe it was fly to another grid, or for ground teams, drive to another road. We were always looking out the windows for other air traffic and whenever possible, we were looking at the ground, wishing we could spot some clue to identify a possible crash site. After nearly two hours of cutting circles in the sky, we requested a return to base. The air was smooth, we had some snacks and drinking water, and we returned from an easy flight. Some lessons learned from our sortie include:

  1. Be prepared for a long sit in the airplane. Have some food and water available.
  2. Make sure you are familiar with operation of the radio. Know how to manage and separate airplane traffic from SAR messages.
  3. Have a pencil ready to write and keep a log of messages.
  4. Insist that the messages you receive and pass are clear and concise.
  5. Don’t relay a garbled message.

Flying the High Bird is not a glamorous job, but it is an important one. Good communications on a search and rescue mission are essential to keeping track of position, safety, and task of each unit, ground or air. Semper Vigilans.

Blaze Cunningham, Lt Col CAP

Director, Aerospace Education

HQ, Minnesota Wing

What Is a Blue Moon?

Is there really such a thing? Well, yes, but it’s probably not what you may think, and it’s definitely not what it used to be. Calling the moon blue was an obvious absurdity, like saying it was made of green cheese. The phrase, “until a blue moon” developed in the 19th century, meaning never, or at least extremely unlikely. After all, they do occur.

In 1883, an Indonesian volcano named Krakatoa exploded. Scientists liken the blast to a 100-megaton nuclear bomb. Fully 600 km away, people heard the noise as loud as a cannon shot. Plumes of ash rose to the very top of Earth’s atmosphere. And the moon turned blue. Krakatoa’s ash was the reason. Some of the ash-clouds were filled with particles about 1 micron (one millionth of a meter) wide–the right size to strongly scatter red light, while allowing other colors to pass. White moonbeams shining through the clouds emerged blue, and sometimes green. Blue moons persisted for years after the eruption. People also saw lavender suns and, for the first time, noctilucent clouds. The ash caused “such vivid red sunsets that fire engines were called out in New York, Poughkeepsie, and New Haven to quench the apparent conflagration,” according to volcanologist Scott Rowland at the University of Hawaii.

Other less potent volcanos have turned the moon blue, too. People saw blue moons in 1983, for instance, after the eruption of the El Chichon volcano in Mexico. And there are reports of some caused by Mt. St. Helens in 1980 and Mount Pinatubo in 1991. The key to a blue moon is having in the air lots of particles slightly wider than the wavelength of red light (0.7 micron)–and no other sizes present. This is rare, but volcanoes sometimes spit out such clouds, as do forest fires.

The use of the phrase blue moon to indicate an actual astronomical phenomenon first started in 1932 with the Maine Farmer’s Almanac. It’s definition was a season with four full moons rather than the usual three, where the third of four full moons would be called a “blue moon.” That definition mutated into the one most quoted today when in 1946, an article in an astronomy magazine by amateur astronomer James Hugh Pruett misinterpreted the Maine rule to mean two full moons in one month.

Whether you use the newer definition or the one from the Maine Farmer’s Almanac, a blue moon, while not common, happens on a regular basis. Either way, they occur approximately 7 times in a 19 year period.

So, will you ever see a blue moon? In astronomical terms, it is very likely. During this month of December, you may have seen the full moon on December 2nd. If you missed that, the second full moon will be New Year’s Eve, December 31st, when you may be able to see a blue moon, if the weather cooperates.

Blaze Cunningham, Lt Col CAP

Director, Aerospace Education

HQ, Minnesota Wing


Prepare for Being Tagged – An Elevator Speech for CAP

Perhaps you have just finished marching in a large parade as part of a squadron honor guard and are standing on a street corner, still in your uniform, waiting for your parents to find you. Maybe you have just finished handing out programs at a Memorial Day event and are debriefing with your sergeant on a sidewalk while waiting for traffic clear. You might even be stopping for a soda in a store while on your way to or from a weekly CAP meeting. In any of these cases, someone might see you and decide that YOU are the person they would like to interrogate about Civil Air Patrol. You are wearing the uniform. Can you answer the questions, or will you be the deer in the headlights?

Everyone should have an “elevator speech” rehearsed and ready to give without even thinking. An “elevator speech” is a short, concise summary of something that could be given during the length of a typical elevator ride. Giving a professional answer reflects well on CAP and CAP’s mission. Preparing and rehearsing your answers will also help you develop your own sense of purpose in the organization.

You don’t have to become a certified Public Affairs Officer or memorize the Wing web site contents for your speech. However, here are some facts that maybe interesting enough to remain in your memory:

Congress mandates CAP to do the following:

  • Provide aviation education and training
  • Contribute to public welfare
  • Assist in local, state,and national emergencies

In short, CAP provides Americans with trained volunteers to support non-combat Air Force programs and missions. How does CAP do provide that support?

  • CAP conducts nearly 90% of inland search and rescue authorized by the Air Force.
  • CAP flies daily missions to support the Drug Enforcement Administration and the US Forestry
  • service.
  • CAP planes are used to simulate “aerial targets” to train US interceptors. (CAP plays the part of the “bad guy” trying to enter the country or smuggle drugs.)
  • CAP maintains a survivable radio network to provide emergency communications when disaster strikes.
  • CAP maintains 550 aircraft and a vast number of vehicles, rescue equipment, and radios.
  • CAP has 33,000 adults and 23,000 cadets in 1,650 units around the globe.
  • CAP trains adults and cadets to find missing persons and work with the Emergency Medical Services.
  • CAP flies human tissue for organ transplants.
  • CAP even fills sandbags during spring floods.

CAP does much more than these examples illustrate. Think about your own experiences, training, and education. Tell your “interviewer” what YOU have done and seen. Let the person know what Civil Air Patrol is doing for citizens. You may or may not end up recruiting a new member as a result, but you will have enhanced CAP’s ability to do its job when you have shared its purpose and capabilities with the public.

Michael Delk, CAP, SM

Red Wing Composite Squadron


BlackCAP Thank You

Thank you Civil Air Patrol and Red Wing Squadron for the BlackCAP experience. I can’t compare it to anything I’ve ever done and I can’t get the faces, conversations, and activities out of my mind. I want to go to encampment now. I had to adjust when I went home on Sunday
from 100+ cadets saying, “Yes, Sir.” and complying to my two-year-old ignoring me while walking up the driveway and out of safety bounds.The experience also became humbling Monday when I was able to cross-reference names with positions, accomplishments, and time in service. Many of the people with whom I was jabbering, with whom I stood in flight, and with whom I worked to solve problems, were very accomplished in their fields and in CAP. However, they never really spent any time talking about those accomplishments. They were humble servant-leaders interested in doing their jobs and sharing the experience.These traits are probably obvious to those of you who have been in CAP for sometime, but I found them refreshingly remarkable, just like seeing the cadets break out into competitions to see how far they could push themselves in push-up contests when they had spare time. (Ok, yes I realize that doesn’t always happen and therefore we need mass teacup songs in formation to make sure they don’t get carried away with other independent activities.)

Also, when I was asked to gather cadets during cleanup and task them with moving gear and sweeping the hangar, I spent too much time wondering how to do that tasking. I didn’t jump into it. However, once I enlisted one cadet it started a chain reaction and soon everyone was helping. That was a simple little lesson in leadership … the worst-case scenario doesn’t always occur.

I was also impressed with Flight Staff. I don’t know whether they were happy or disappointed to have a flight of Senior Members, though the Flight Commander did say at the end that we were the easiest and most fun flights he’d ever had. Anyway, they were very professional and it was obvious that they didn’t like screwing around (as opposed to decent fun). They were also always very friendly and our Flight Sergeant was always trying to anticipate the needs of the next activity by researching, asking questions, and gathering equipment and information.

This was my first experience with the Cadets of Minnesota Wing and it was a wonderful experience.

– Michael Delk, 1st Lt, MN104

United States Air Force Auxiliary – Civil Air Patrol Minnesota Wing – Red Wing, MN