Joint WFFD and CFD Exercise Debrief June 22, 2021

June 24, 2021 Mission Brief – WFFD – CFD

Exercise Debrief

Date: June 24, 2021

Location: Jordan Lake near Raleigh and Sanford, NC


            Steve Rhode – Pilot – Wake Forest Fire Department (WFFD)

            Ian Moffatte – Captain WFFD – Tactical Flight Officer

            Andrew Albert – Pilot – WFFD

            Brent Mincey – Captain Charlotte Fire Department (CFD) – Spotter

            Vincent Farrell – Captain CFD – Radio and Observer

            Thomas Eggar – Air Traffic Controller – Water Subject

Mission: Testing hasty search procedure for using two aircraft to cover more ground to search for a potential missing person on or in the water. Then, use a confirmed target location to guide the drone into the nearest suitable LZ to conduct flight operations and maximize battery flight time.

See this mission brief for planned mission and specific details.


This is video captured from the tail of Fire Demon 1 during the exercise.

Description of Mission:

Mincey and Farrell drove from Charlotte to meet Rhode and Moffatte at the Raleigh airport (RDU), where the Cessna 182 (Fire Demon 1) is located. Albert flew the twin-engine Beechcraft Barron in from Louisburg, NC (LHZ), and everyone met at the hangar.

Rhode conducted a pre-flight briefing following the mission brief. All participating members also conducted a walking brief and walked the flight on the scene to allow new participants to practice and understand the radio call procedure we would use. See this video as an example of the briefing procedure we used.

Moffatte is an experienced Tactical Flight Officer and flew with Rhode. Albert had Farrell in the right seat to run his radio communications since Farrell has aviation experience. Mincey was seated behind the pilot as the primary spotter in the Barron.

Following the usual run-up of both aircraft and obtaining clearance from ATC to depart RDU, both aircraft departed for the exercise area. Flight operations had been thoroughly coordinated with RDU ATC since the operations were located below the busy RDU arrival corridor. In addition, ATC had a copy of the mission brief on hand in advance. We wanted to make sure our exercise would not cause any issues for RDU ATC, and they would understand what we were doing.

While the Barron, designated Demon 2, hung out in its assigned Bug Out area Bravo, Fire Demon 1 proceeded into the ops area and made radio contact with the search target on the water (Water 1) who had an aviation radio. Once Demon 1 contacted Water 1 and performed an aerial inspection of the ops area for any safety issues, Demon 1 departed the ops area for its assigned loitering position at Bug Out Alpha.

Demon 2 entered the ops area and attempted to locate Water 1 on a jet ski on the lake. Demon 2 was flying at 2,000 feet MSL, which was 1,700 feet AGL in that area. At times Demon 2 may have been up to 2,500 feet MSL which was the assigned hard ceiling.

When Demon 2 was believed to have located Water 1, they passed the subject’s location to Demon 1 that then proceeded inbound to the ops area as Demon 2 proceeded to Bug Out Bravo. This process continued through the exercise so that the two aircraft would not be in the same ops area simultaneously.

Demon 1 was conducting all operations at 1,500 feet MSL or 1,200 feet AGL over the lake area. Thus, while it would have been possible for Demon 1 to descend lower if needed, there was no reason to increase risk by doing so.

Demon 1 visually positively located the subject but not in the location described on the radio by Demon 2. The process where the TFO calls the search turns for the pilot works out very well.

Demon 1 left the ops area, Water 1 relocated, and Demon 2 proceeded inbound again.

When Demon 2 believed they had located Water 1 down a nearby cove, they relayed the location to Demon 1. Water 1 was found positively again by Demon 1.

The following exercise was for Water 1 to pick a location, and we would repeat the search and find process. Demon 1 loitered near the area to be able to receive radio communications from Water 1. When Water 1 said they were ready, Demon 1 relayed the message to Demon 2 and proceeded to Bug Out Alpha.

Demon 2 made a few passes of the designated operations area and was unable to locate the subject.

Demon 2 left the area, and Demon 1 entered the ops area to search. However, instead of making circles over the search area, Demon 1 elected to fly up and down the fingers of the coves to allow for the TFO to examine the far bank.

Demon 2 believed they spotted a reflection of the sun off the small jet ski but could not get a good look at it before it was passed. Demon 2 made contact with Water 1 that provided the location of a boat on the lake, and using that. Demon 1 was able to identify the jet ski near the bank positively. Unfortunately, trees hid the jet ski from much of the visual area from the airplane. The trees near the shore blocked the view. There was no visual clue like a wake to draw your attention, and the green color of the jet ski did not differentiate it much from the background.

The boat was the red boat planned for the exercise. While the jet ski was challenging to see, the red boat was easy to locate and identify.

However, with the boat’s identification on the lake as a guide, Demon 1 was able to identify the jet ski using binoculars from the aircraft positively.

At this point, the exercise was concluded as we were running out of time to be back on the ground at RDU to avoid the TFR that was to go active in an hour or two.

Both aircraft coordinated the end of the exercise and discontinued communications with each other and returned to RDU Approach Control, and returned to RDU, where a post-flight debrief was conducted.

Lessons Learned:

Before the flight, make sure we have a checklist item to verify the operational radiofrequency is working for participants.  There was no problem with the radio, but demonstrating both aircraft were on the same secondary frequency before departure is good. We improvised this but had not briefed this before being in the aircraft ready to taxi.

For the high wing aircraft Demon 1, the optimum angle for turns for the TFO was 45 degrees. The process of an experienced TFO calling the turns when the target is abeam of the aircraft works wonderfully.

Demon 1 found that we could be too close to the target since the gyro-stabilized binoculars we use have 14X magnification and provided the TFO with a very narrow visual cone to locate the item of interest quickly. Therefore, the best use of the binoculars at 1,500 feet MSL was to positively identify the target and then observe the target out the bubble windows.

The GoPro camera in the tail of Demon 1 stopped shooting 4K video during the exercise. It may be because the camera’s battery creates some issue with the direct USB power being fed from inside the aircraft to the camera. Next time we will try it without the battery in the camera.

The twin-engine low wing Barron makes for a great mission control aircraft and would be better utilized at 2,500 feet MSL while Demon 1 operated at 1,500 feet. Demon 2 would then be primarily responsible for calling other traffic coming into the area, monitoring ATC, identifying powerlines and obstacles in the search area, and coordinating with other participating airplanes and drones on the ground.

When drone teams needed to be called into a specific LZ, then Demon 1 at 1,500 feet MSL would be the best resource.

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