By Travis Sloat
Phoenix Staff Writer
Captain Danny Dunlap went through his checklist as he prepared to take off from Davis Field on Saturday.
The original flight plan for Dunlap, a pilot for the Civil Air Patrol, was to fly southwest of Tinker Air Force Base by Draper Lake and photograph a recently burned patch of ground. However, just before he was able to clear for takeoff, a white van driven by Clay Morton arrived to take Dunlap and his crew to a re-briefing.
Dunlap and Morton were two of 83 members of the Oklahoma CAP who were practicing response drills over the weekend. Missions ranged from a missing plane north of Stillwater to inspection of critical infrastructures all over the state. The group was getting one last practice in before the Air Force comes to evaluate them in April.
Col. Joe Cavett, a CAP member for 23 years, said the missions were designed to practice effective search and rescue skills.
“We photograph mock disaster scenes, so when we get a real call, we’re better prepared,” Cavett said. “We take several months to plan these exercises. When we get an official call, we usually just have three to four hours to respond.”
Of the 83 members stationed at the former National Guard Armory at Davis Field, 27 were cadets, and 56 were seniors. The participating men and women hail from all over the state, and each group was given special assignments for the weekend. The younger cadets handled the ground work, while the senior members, anyone 19 and older, spent their time in the air.
Phyl Howard, a spokeswoman for the CAP, said the core values of the organization make it perfect for youth.
“You learn so much, and it’s great for teenagers,” said Howard. “It’s an opportunity for people who want to do something for their country.”
Howard also said the group’s goal in April was to receive an “outstanding” grade from the Air Force.
A variety of aircraft, all bearing the CAP signature in red, white, silver and blue, littered the tarmac of Davis Field Airport. Cavett said no craft left the airport unless it had enough fuel to complete the mission, plus one hour of reserve.
“We don’t just provide emergency services,” he said. “When President (Barack) Obama came to Cushing last year, we provided the Secret Service with an Aerial Communication Platform. So far, we’re the only CAP to do anything like that for the Secret Service.”
As the senior members did their scouting from the sky, the cadets focused on search and rescue operations that were land based, as well as handling the radio equipment and receiving valuable training.
Cadet Cade Norton, a 13 year-old from Durant, said he’s training for what he hopes is a long career as a Navy pilot.
“I’m training right now for mission radio operation,” Norton said. “I have to be certified in that in order to help with the radio. We all came down here for a three-day weekend, and it has been awesome. It’s my second training session, and I can’t wait for the next one.”
Reach Travis Sloat at (918) 684-2900 or firstname.lastname@example.org.