Franklin Township UP's Civil Air Patrol serves many roles Squadron best known for search-and-rescue flights

By Kelly Fosness

The Daily Mining Gazette (Houghton)

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) -- In 2011, the Copper Country Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol aided local emergency crews in three search-and-rescue missions, and stood on standby for a fourth.

"That's what we're most known for," Mission Pilot Jeff Burl, of Hancock, said. "(The CAP) is the organization that flies 90 percent of the search-and-rescue flights in the country."

The 15- to 20-active-member squadron, based at Houghton County Memorial Airport in Franklin Township, is one of 52 Michigan Wing CAP squadrons throughout the state and one of four which exist in the Upper Peninsula.

An official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, the CAP is a federally chartered civilian corporation with more than 60,000 volunteer members nationwide.

"We exist to do better things for humanity," Michigan Wing Commander Col. Leo Burke, of Sterling Heights, Mich., said in a phone interview. "We have three major functions, but the one we're most famous for is our emergency services function."

In addition to search-and-rescue, Burke said emergency services include: disaster relief following natural and manmade disasters, humanitarian services, transporting time-sensitive medical materials in support of the Red Cross, Air Force support, providing orientation flights for Air Force ROTC cadets, counterdrug operations and homeland security.

Nationally, membership in the organization consists of cadets and senior members. The CAP is comprised of 52 wings - one for each state plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico - and maintains a fleet of about 550 airplanes, primarily Cessna 172s and Cessna 182s.

The Copper Country Composite Squadron, chartered in late 1995, is equipped with one of Michigan's fleet of 10 single-engine CAP aircrafts, which is housed at the airport. Red, white and blue, with "CAP" printed in large capital letters beneath one of the wings, the four-seat Cessna 172 is used for search-and-rescue missions as well as for flight training and proficiency.

"I think it's great for the community to have an aircraft available like that," said squadron commander Maj. Joe Masini, of Hancock. "It's good for everything up here."

Masini, who serves as a CAP check pilot and mission check airman, said all pilots are required to take an annual proficiency flight, for which they utilize the aircraft. The plane is also used to provide orientation flights for cadets as well as for flight instruction for Michigan Technological University ROTC students, which falls under the other two national CAP missions: aerospace education and cadet programs.

This weekend, Mission Pilot Kevin Cadeau and senior member Tom Curski are taking the CAP plane to Iron Mountain where they will provide a series of orientation flights for cadets. An Air Force-funded activity, the orientation flights are designed to introduce aviation to youth.

"We take them up to a safe altitude and give them flight instruction," said Cadeau, of Allouez. "They will actually have the opportunity to fly the aircraft under our supervision."

As far as funding for CAP operations, Masini said the Air Force covers the cost of the airplane and fuel during search missions. Annual dues and other related expenses are paid out of pocket by each member.

As an auxiliary of the Air Force, CAP members are required to wear uniforms during all missions, Masini said. Uniforms include, but are not limited to, fire-resistant blue flight suits, blue CAP polo shirts with gray slacks, and uniforms for ground crews.

The Copper Country Composite Squadron meets at 5:30 p.m. Mondays at the airport, Masini said. Anyone interested in joining the organization or wanting to learn more about the CAP is welcome to attend.

"You don't have to be a pilot to join," he added. "Some are observers, some are scanners. Then we have ground teams that go out, so we have lots of positions people can fill besides the flying end of it."

According to the organization's official website, the CAP, nationally headquartered at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., formed days before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941. Thousands of volunteers, joined by a love for aviation, sacrificed themselves to aid American military forces during World War II.

"In the early days, we literally strapped torpedoes to little airplanes and flew out over the ocean to look for submarines," Burke said.

The website stated CAP volunteers logged 500,000 flying hours, sunk two enemy submarines, and saved hundreds of crash victims during WWII.

A handful of local squadron members retired from lifelong careers in aviation and serve as certified mission pilots, among other positions. For them, the CAP is a way to give back to their community while continuing to navigate the skies.

"It's the love of flying mostly," said Mission Check Pilot Bill Meier, of Twin Lakes Township, who has been a member since 2006. "I was in the Air Force for eight years and I knew this was an auxiliary of that."

A former commercial pilot for American Airlines and instructor in the Air Force, Meier said he maintained his instructor rating in order to fly student pilots.

"That's what I'm doing here with the CAP," he said. "I also give the other pilots a (proficiency flight) checkride."

Following a 40-year career as a military pilot with the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army National Guard, Masini flew commercially for Continental Airlines.

Afterward, he worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, assigned with Northwest Airlines as aircrew program manager.

"I've got a little over 23,000 flight hours," Masini said, noting he returned to Hancock when he retired in 1995. "My intent was always to come back here."

Masini was instrumental in forming the Copper Country Composite Squadron.

He was a cadet in the original local CAP squadron that existed in the 1950s. In the subsequent decades the organization dissolved due to lack of membership.

"When I got back here the first part of '95, we didn't have a squadron," he said. "That's why I got involved with it."

Published: Tue, May 1, 2012

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