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Search Pilot Qualification Course Civil Air Patrol Auxiliary of the United States Air Force


BLOCK FOUR Mountain Searching


Crash Due to the foliage, this crash is very difficult to spot from the air

ELT Searches: 

ELT Searches Conduct search at highest practical altitude Increase chance of detecting ELT located in valley Fly straight line along suspected route If no detection, fly 7-mile offsets Fly expanding circle over high-probability area If deep canyons in area, fly over each one Preclude missing signal confined to vertical propagation Signals may only be detectable at certain times Weak batteries may only transmit when warmed by sun


Sufficient Altitude Prevents Blocked Signal


ELT Signal Bounce in Mountainous Terrain

Grid Navigation: 

Grid Navigation Use every means available to identify grid area GPS, VOR, visual confirmation of terrain features If equipped, set up GPS to remain within grid Monitor bearing and distance from selected corner Assess weather and winds in the search area Assess grid to determine best search method Will be dictated by terrain features Take the time to plan method for searching each feature Record searched areas on chart or hand drawing

Search Strategies: 

Search Strategies Ascertain areas of high probability, such as: Natural pathways through the terrain Aircraft often follow valleys and fly through passes Particularly when low ceilings were present False canyons and gradually rising terrain Especially if the pilot was unfamiliar with the terrain Areas of cloud cover or thunderstorm activity First ridge on a direct route between origin and destination Consider focusing on these areas before conducting an exhaustive contour search of the grid

Pilot Responsibilities: 

Pilot Responsibilities Plan and clear the flight path Assure proper terrain clearance Maintain constant altitude Maintain optimal airspeed (about 80 knots) Put observers in best position to scan terrain Keep track of areas searched Identify areas remaining to be searched Monitor aircraft systems and performance

Crash location: 

Crash location Crash in a corn field

Contour Searching: 

Contour Searching Use contour search techniques in mountainous terrain other than canyons and steep valleys Begin at the highest elevation Maintain a constant altitude while flying adjacent to steep terrain Once all terrain at that altitude has been searched, descend 500 feet and continue contour searching Put your observers in the optimal position to detect the target

14 Crashes: 

14 Crashes East face of 10-mile-long mountain ridge with north/south orientation Mountain tops 6,500 feet Valley 2,000 feet 14 crashes have occurred on this east face … mostly due to severe downdrafts from westerly winds

Viking Crash: 

Viking Crash Crash site in center Mountain top 6,684 feet Crash at 6,500 feet 43-knot winds Bellanca Viking Radar showed aircraft descending during approach to the ridge


Crash Crash site in center of picture Aircraft cut a swath through the trees Note fallen & broken trees with rock outcroppings interfere with the search scan


Crash This picture is taken from the ground looking back through the path the aircraft traveled Remember you may be searching as much for broken and sheared trees as for an actual aircraft

Contour Searching - Cont’d.: 

Contour Searching - Cont’d. If you encounter a sub-ridge, either: Include it in your current contour search Return later to search it separately Two options in searching ridge or mountain: Contour all the way around the terrain before descending Contour one face at a time Resist temptation to scan when the terrain is on your side of the aircraft Your job is to safely fly the airplane

Search Spacing: 

Search Spacing 500 feet vertically and laterally is ideal Closer and terrain appears as a blur Farther and objects cannot be detected Factors which might prevent this spacing Turbulence, downdrafts, terrain features Generally maintain this spacing, following terrain But do not turn into small gullies and ravines Return later to fly a drainage search pattern

Scanning a Plateau: 

Scanning a Plateau Normal search position and spacing inadequate Unique feature requires specific technique Often partially covered with vegetation Must look down into vegetation to detect target Interrupt contour search to search this feature Circle back and climb if necessary to view downwards Also attempt to scan under bases of foliage

Scanning in Foliage: 

Scanning in Foliage Difficult to spot target in or below trees May have to fly above, then adjacent to each area In pass above, direct observers to look vertically In pass adjacent, direct observers to look horizontally Look for indications of a crash Broken trees or limbs Dried leaves

Searching a Cove: 

Searching a Cove Be certain your aircraft turn radius will allow flying comfortably into and out of the cove If too tight, use the drainage search method A low-wing aircraft will block the observer’s view Explain your plan to your crew before entering

Searching a Promontory: 

Searching a Promontory If the terrain cuts sharply away from your flight path, do not turn sharply to follow it in a high-wing aircraft Temporarily exceed optimal spacing High wing will block observer’s view Instead, extend outward, then reverse course to re-approach If the terrain cuts sharply into your flight path, do not turn sharply to follow it in a low-wing aircraft Low wing will block observer’s view Forced to conduct a drainage search pattern

Searching a Drainage: 

Searching a Drainage Required in narrow or steep drainages Involves flying straight down the drainage Both observers scan each side simultaneously Approach from the top a low airspeed Reduce power when beginning descent Use partial or full flaps to increase drag S-turns allow scanning bottom of drainage

Searching a Canyon: 

Searching a Canyon Reconnoiter the canyon from above Confirm correct routing Note presence and location of side canyons Look for power lines and their support structures Always fly down canyons Reduce the chance of turning up a dead end side canyon Maintain positional awareness at all times Continue to look for power lines across the canyon

Crash in Trees: 

Crash in Trees The crash site is in the center of the picture Unable to see the crash because of the trees Next pictures show importance of placing scanners to see the same terrain from different perspectives

Crash in Trees: 

Crash in Trees After flying about 300 feet to the left of the previous picture The crash is becoming visible

Crash in Trees: 

Crash in Trees From 500 feet beyond previous picture the crash is visible Another 200 feet and the aircraft disappears again Thoroughly search heavily wooded areas

Effects of Lighting: 

Effects of Lighting Shadows can prevent sighting targets Loss of sufficient lighting Loss of contrast Direct light may reflect from shiny targets Most mountainous terrain is best searched mid-day Steep slopes may be best early or late in the day Flying in deepening shadows can be dangerous Difficult to judge distance from terrain Difficult to detect layered backlit obstructions


Front Lighting Back Lighting

Effect of Light: 

Effect of Light West slope of a mountain taken with the sun low during the evening West slopes can be searched later East slope should be searched early

Effect of Light: 

Effect of Light East slope of same mountain taken about one minute later Note deep shadows Dangerous to try to search

Target Detection: 

Target Detection Immediately note a prominent visual landmark Capture location on GPS (if installed) Note exact altitude at time of acquisition Return to the location at the same altitude Allow time to approach the target wings-level Use 360° racetrack or 180° teardrop pattern Racetrack has advantage of re-creating same direction Be cautious when turning back toward vertical terrain Ensure adequate turning radius Use shallow approach angle

Cessna 206: 

Cessna 206 The Cessna 206 in this picture looks like a trash pile … not an airplane

Cessna 206: 

Cessna 206 Close up of the Cessna 206 crash Remember, what you are looking for may not resemble an airplane

Mooney Crash: 

Mooney Crash Crash site of a Mooney To the left of the crash is a small piece of aircraft lodged in the top of a tree The piece of wreckage led to the crash site

Mooney - Winter: 

Mooney - Winter Photo of the Mooney crash site taken during the winter Crash site is to the left of the strut half way between two logging roads Crash looks like snow

Mooney – Late Spring: 

Mooney – Late Spring The same Mooney crash site Photo taken during the late spring Very difficult to locate under these conditions If it was a fresh crash there may have been some tree damage to make it easier to find

Cherokee Crash: 

Cherokee Crash Piper Cherokee crash in trees Visible at center of picture

Cessna Crash: 

Cessna Crash We spotted the wing panel of a Cessna The remainder of the crash was some distance away (Indicates in-flight breakup)

Cessna 310 Crash: 

Cessna 310 Crash Can you spot the Cessna 310? Photo from a helicopter Snow makes the C310 difficult to see in the lower center of the photo

Cessna 310 Crash: 

Cessna 310 Crash Flying close to the wreckage, the helicopter blow snow away from the wreckage Doubtful that this would have been spotted without the functioning ELT signal

Sensory Illusion Crash: 

Sensory Illusion Crash A sensory illusion caused this crash The crash site was difficult to see except in a vertical direction The ELT signal was strong

Cessna 210 Crash: 

Cessna 210 Crash A Cessna 210 departed for a short flight from a mountain airport in zero visibility conditions Note the runway in the background


Modified Racetrack Maneuver


Modified Teardrop Turnaround Procedure

Crew Consideration: 

Crew Consideration Ensure entire crew is fit for duty prior to takeoff Consult with crew regarding mission accomplishment Correct spacing, flight track, lighting, etc. Take periodic breaks from searching Relax, drink, snack, stretch Perform ops check, switch fuel tanks, etc. Terminate mission when appropriate Two hours “in-grid” is a practical maximum Upon crewmember airsickness, exhaustion, etc.

Closing Thoughts: 

Closing Thoughts Mountain flying is demanding, yet at the same time very rewarding. Maintaining awareness of, and proficiency in, the principals and techniques described in this course will allow you to safely and effectively fly and search in the mountains “So That Others May Live.”

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