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Civil Air Patrol squadron ready when called upon
Local unit draws from Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties
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Forsyth County News
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Their heads may be up in the clouds, but these guys are the ones to call when a plane goes down.

The Dahlonega squadron of the Georgia Wing Civil Air Patrol organized a two-day mountain flying course earlier this month.

The session, which featured classroom and aerial instruction, was taught at Gwinnett County-Briscoe Field Airport in Lawrenceville.

The Dahlonega squadron consists of volunteer pilots and nonpilots from Forsyth, Dawson and Lumpkin counties.

The Civil Air Force Patrol serves as the civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, but it is not an operating reserve component of the Air Force or federal government.

According to organization figures, the patrol flies more than 90 percent of all search-and-rescue missions in the United States and saves about 75 lives per year.

Ross Stratham, spokesman for the local squadron, said it hasn't been called for on any rescue missions this year, but they're always ready.

"We get together at least twice a month, on the second Monday evening and fourth Saturday morning, which gives everybody a choice of one or the other," Stratham said.

"We meet at the Dahlonega airport for our meeting and for training, and we almost always have at least one additional training opportunity each month."

Stratham said there also are opportunities for those who would rather keep their feet on the ground.

"We have, for instance, a national radio network of backup emergency communications," he said. "We activated the network during the recent hurricanes in Florida, Texas and Louisiana.

"So we had people right here in North Georgia that were passing emergency communications traffic over high-power radios."

He said during missions, patrol ground crews conduct searches using Global Positioning System units while their counterparts search from above.

Richard Ivy is a retired U.S. Naval aviator with more than 50 years of aviation experience. He is also a member of the Dahlonega group.  He said anyone with a love of aviation is welcome and more nonpilots are needed.

Ivy said along with searching for downed planes, the group also assists in times of severe weather, like major fires or tornadoes.

"The state may ask us to go up and take pictures and stuff like that," he said.

Ivy said joining the group is a great opportunity to help others.

"If you're aviation oriented and you want to participate in giving back a little bit and want to participate in missions for Homeland Security and the state of Georgia or just rescue missions, that's what we are," he said.

Forsyth County resident Dayle Yates, a retired commercial airline pilot, and Dawsonville resident Courtney Brooks, organized the educational event, according to a report from the squadron.

"Flying low and slow requires precise control and attention to detail," Yates said in a statement. "Not to mention the challenges such as updrafts and downdrafts and the quickly changing weather in the mountains."

Brooks, who has a doctorate in aviation history, has written a major portion of the official NASA history of the Apollo missions.

"It was fun doing the research and putting it into a format our pilots could use," Brooks said, also in a statement.

"Dayle Yates did his usual masterful job of presenting during the classroom sessions."

Though his knowledge of aviation may be extensive, Brooks just learned to fly last year.

Yates said he joined the group because it "seemed a shame to put all those years of experience behind me and not put them to good use."

"So I looked and asked around and joined the Civil Air Patrol. I enjoy flying and really like that I can give back some of my experience," he said.

The patrol's pilots and air crews often must fly over mountainous areas while searching for aircraft and listening for distress beacons.

Brooks said the course was intended to "make mountain flying safe for pilots and air crews and to make people with little or no mountain flying experience more experienced and more competent pilots."

Stratham said the Civil Air Patrol is not limited to adults. Some squadrons have cadets, members between ages 11-18, who can be trained to join pilots as air observers during missions.