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Local Civil Air Patrol: Pilot Assists in Air National Guard Training

October/November -- COLUMBUS, Ohio- The small private aircraft, a Cessna 182, was not responding to any messages from air traffic control and was on a path that would take it into restricted air space. The pilot's intentions were not known. 

Years ago, before 9/11, this scenario would have caused concern but possibly not alarm. Not in the environment we live it today, however. This time, fighter aircraft from the Ohio Air National Guard 180th Fighter Wing in Toledo were launched to intercept the possible rogue pilot. Minutes later, the small aircraft was met by a couple of F-16 Fighting Falcons over the farm fields of Ohio. 

Fortunately, it was not a rogue pilot. It was 1st Lt. David Sitter of the Civil Air Patrol, US Air Force Auxiliary, and the Cessna 182 was one of CAP's national fleet of over 530 single engine aircraft. The intercept was part of an ongoing series of training sorties called "Keynote Missions". These missions are a critical training tool for the Air Force in maintaining proficiency in tracking and intercepting these "low and slow" aircraft. Typical scenarios, which are planned weeks in advance, could include an unresponsive pilot with a non-pilot passenger, suspected drug smuggling, a disgruntled former employee flying over employer, or a pilot flying into restricted airspace. 

The Ohio Wing of Civil Air Patrol is one of 25 CAP wings currently assisting the Air Force in these missions. The Air Force or Air National Guard unit being evaluated requests these missions, which are then reviewed by the Civil Air Patrol National Operations Center and the regional Air Defense Sector. After approval by the 1st Air Force, the Air Force command tasked to protect the continental United States, it is assigned to the appropriate CAP wing. 

Once the small plane is intercepted, the fighter pilot has a number of options to get the attention of the smaller aircraft. One of the most challenging aspects of these missions is matching the speed of the faster aircraft to that of the smaller plane, which is much slower, during the intercept. 

Sitter, of Dublin, has been a Civil Air Patrol member for the last seven years and a mission pilot for the last two. During the day he is an engineer for L-3 Communications Avionics Systems in Columbus. He belongs to the Columbus Senior Squadron based at Rickenbacker Airport. The squadron is a regular participant in the Keynote Missions. Training for these missions has real life implications, explained Sitter. "The recent incursion of a Canadian pilot into U.S. airspace with an alleged stolen aircraft is a great example of these types of missions Civil Air Patrol is supporting," the lieutenant said.

Last April, F-16s of both the Minnesota and Wisconsin Air National Guard intercepted a 31-year-old flight school student that had violated U.S. air space. They followed the plane until it eventually ran out gas and landed on a dirt road. 

Sitter is honored to play a part in our nation's defense. "Civil Air Patrol has been an avenue for me to give back to our country, for a freedom that has allowed me to fulfill a passion of mine - aviation," he said. 

The Civil Air Patrol was founded on December 1, 1941, less than a week before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor brought the U.S. into World War II. CAP, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with 56,400 members nationwide. There are 1,300 members in Ohio. CAP performs 95 percent of inland search and rescue missions, as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center, and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 91 lives in 2008. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and counterdrug missions at the request of federal, state, and local agencies. Members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 22,000 young people currently participating in the CAP Cadet Program. 

To find out more about youth or adult volunteer opportunities with Civil Air Patrol and to find a unit near you, please check out www.gocivilairpatrol.com or call 1-800-FLY-2338.
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