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Hero Pilots in Our Challenging Times

From the California National Guard helicopter crews that earned the Distinguished Flying Cross this September, to the complicated COVID-19 International repatriation flights, to helicopter search and rescue teams needed for hurricane water rescues, people who fly aircraft have been in the news in heroic ways of late.

Here are some examples of the bravery of these pilots.

With massive fires closing in on 242 campers, seven Army air crew soldiers come to the rescue

On September 5, 2020 the California National Guard airmen knew they might not return from their mission, but headed into raging smoke, wind and fire anyway. Although ordered to turn back, they flew twice more into the encroaching wildfires which had trapped over 200 people in a campground in the Sierra National Forest. The Chinook and Black Hawk crews successfully rescued each person from the Mammoth Pool Campground in a harrowing 10-hour rescue effort.

A few days later, President Trump honored the seven soldiers with Distinguished Flying Crosses during an event at a hangar in McClellan Park, CA. It is one of the military’s highest decorations, recognizing heroic acts and extraordinary achievements in aerial flight. The medals were awarded to the seven members of the California National Guard’s 40th Combat Aviation Brigade and included Chief Warrant Officer 5 Joseph Rosamond, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Kipp Goding, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brady Hlebain, Chief Warrant Officer 2 Irvin Hernandez, Warrant Officer 1 Ge Xiong, Sgt. George Esquivel Jr. and Sgt. Cameron Powell.

As of this writing, over 16,500 firefighters are battling 28 major wildfires across California which have left 24 dead and 4,200 structures destroyed, according to Governor Newsom, who met with President Trump about the promised federal aid to victims the day of the medal ceremony. Wildfires continue to destroy terrain, wildlife, homes, farms and businesses from northern Washington to southern California and east to South Dakota and Texas.

Source: Stars and Stripes

Phoenix Air and the U.S. State Department’s complex COVID-19 medical evacuation

In March 2020, William Walters, deputy chief medical officer at the U.S. State Department contacted the Phoenix Air charter department to ask about the viability in operating an air ambulance flight to bring out a critically ill American citizen from Paro, Bhutan.

According to Dent Thompson, SVP and COO of Phoenix Air, the patient himself was a physician, and an advisor to the government of Bhutan when he became sick with COVID-19 and “was rapidly deteriorating. He was in a local hospital, intubated on a ventilator with poor vital signs. It was a Hail Mary throw.” The patient’s prognosis was not good, but “at that moment, it was game on,” he said.

They needed to put together a team at the closest medevac jet equipped with the company’s proprietary Aeromedical Biological Containment (ABC) which happened to be in Nairobi Kenya, and get into one of the most dangerous airports in the world in the eastern Himalayas. At only 7,431 feet long and at an altitude of 7,333 feet, the airport is so difficult, an aircraft must have a licensed and specially trained navigator on board to talk the pilots through procedure. Putting it mildly, “this was not going to be easy,” Thompson said.

The team consisted of Cheyenne Foote, who was the company’s most experienced captain in Nairobi at the time, and his First Officer, Greg McPherson. The medical team, registered nurse Rick McKinstry and paramedic Ernie DeWitt, would be in the back with the patient in the ABC tent. Despite only 12 navigators available for the mission, two more teams were stationed along the route to relieve the pilots due to FAA regulations on how long a pilot can be in the cockpit.

Snow was expected in three days and while the patient was continuing to decline, any delay would likely be deadly. The additional teams were stationed in Dubai and Paris. With a highly contagious patient on board, none of the crew would be allowed off the aircraft once it was underway and the jet couldn’t stop moving except to add more pilots and refuel.

Thursday morning, March 12, and “the train needed to pull out of the station on time,” Thompson said. After picking up the Bhutanese navigator in Calcutta, who refused payment when he realized they were rescuing a doctor who was helping his country, the slow descent into the airport was a harrowing effort, made with navigational instruments shut off and using “pure piloting skills by visual sight, stick and rudder control.”

As the ambulance arrived to load up the patient, he was still alive but had worsened vital signs. With snow expected soon, they were wheels up quickly while the medical team worked to keep the patient alive for the trip back to the states. They stopped to refuel in Calcutta; Dubai (where they picked up the second flight crew); Crete; Paris (where the third flight crew joined for the final stretch across the Atlantic Ocean); Newfoundland (for a final fuel stop) and then on to Baltimore where the admitting hospital is located. From Bhutan to Baltimore was a 30 ½ hour flight and the patient was “amazingly stable considering all,” Thompson said.

Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called it “one of the most complex medical evacuations in history.”

Source: The Daily Tribune

Getting them home: Private Jet Charters in COVID-19 Repatriation Flights

On March 19, 2020, the U.S. State Department issued a dire advisory for Americans not to travel overseas, and to return to the U.S. if they could, and if they could not return, to stay in place due to concerns over the coronavirus spread. The Level 4 travel advisory, the most severe warning issued by the state department, left many travelers stranded in a strange land due to the pandemic. With nationwide lockdowns and commercial air flights at a standstill, private aviation was the solution many families chose for a quick and safe return to their homeland. Repatriation flights became common, and were organized in coordination between private air charter companies and embassies internationally.

“Embassies around the world have trusted in private charter companies to operate these flights because of their experience in global flight coordination and high levels of aircraft availability,” said Kyle Patel, CEO of BitLux, “We’re just a call away from operating a swift and safe flight to bring families home.”

GoAir announced in September that they had flown more than 200 charter flights from Saudi Arabia to India, repatriating more than 37,000 passengers since June. On September 23, however, Saudi Arabia suspended flights between the two countries as well as Brazil and Argentina because of a recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

Throughout the world, these repatriation flights by private charter have reunited hundreds of thousands of families, offering hope in our difficult times. Private pilots have aided in humanitarian missions during COVID-19 as well. General aviation provides a fast, reliable and safe way to bring PPE and other medical supplies, food, water and anything needed in parts of the world with as many supplies that the aircraft can load up and fly over.

Sources: Aviationvoice.com and www.moneycontrol.com

Civil Air Patrol: Civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force

For more than 70 years, Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has been a civilian strategic partner of the U.S. Air Force, tasked with providing missions of emergency services, cadet programs and aerospace education. According to their website, “As a Total Force partner and Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, Civil Air Patrol is there to search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe. Its 60,000 members selflessly devote their time, energy and expertise toward the well-being of their communities, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and helping shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program.”

Founded on December 1, 1941, to mobilize the nation's civilian aviation resources for national defense service, CAP is involved in natural disaster relief such as the mission this past Labor Day weekend to fly over and take photos of Hurricane Laura’s damage in Southwest Louisiana. Six photo missions were performed over the weekend including four using high-tech photo and navigation systems.

These advanced systems were mounted on their Cessnas, and the two-member crews flew patterns defined by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FEMA analysts then used those photos for the agency’s hurricane recovery activities.

“Our aircrews and staff have quickly assimilated the new photo technology and adjusted to the new flying techniques it demands,” said Lt. Col. Mickey Marchand, an experienced Louisiana Wing incident commander who was in charge during the Labor Day mission. “We’ve also handled the conventional aerial photography flights with ease. I’m proud of how well our staff and aircrews have performed.”

The CAP operates a fleet of 560 single-engine Cessnas and almost 2,000 small Unmanned Aircraft Systems. They perform about 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions given to them by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center.

You can help support their missions by donating here.

Sources: gawg.cap.gov and www.katc.com

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