Hello CGA blog readers! I am now five weeks into my summer training at the Academy, and I’m having a blast. Last week, I reported to Elizabeth City, North Carolina for the Cadet Aviation Training Program (CATP). In sum, CATP is a basic aviation familiarization program for cadets. Cadets are split between Elizabeth City and Mobile, which are the two biggest Coast Guard air stations. I went to Elizabeth City with 13 of my classmates and I had a great time all week.
The goal of CATP is to immerse cadets in Coast Guard aviation for a week so that we can see if we like it. It’s an extremely relaxed environment but there is no pressure to pursue aviation because of going to CATP. I went just to see what our aviation program was all about even though I had no intention of going to flight school. After the week was over, I had a lot more respect and understanding for the aviation side of the service, but I know I want to be underway for a long time in my career.
Overall, CATP was awesome, and I could talk about what we did forever but I’ll limit myself to the three coolest things I got to do while I was there. On Tuesday morning, I had the pleasure of meeting the Aviation Survival Technician (AST/ rescue swimmers) instructors. One of the senior chiefs there was in the movie The Guardian, and he talked to us for a little bit about his role in the movie. The AST facility is top of the line. They have a massive pool with equipment that can simulate hurricane force winds and massive waves so that the swimmers can feel what it’s like to be in a real rescue scenario. Also, they have two platforms to practice entry into the water from helos. The senior chief talked about the AST program and then we got to go in the pool for a ropes challenge. We had to climb a 30 foot rope, which was hanging next to a series of 10 foot ropes in a line. We were supposed to get up the first rope and carefully work our way down the line of other ropes. It was tough! I only made it to the third 10 foot rope before I let go. Only one person in my group of 14 finished. However, we were told that the ASTs can all finish it, which put into perspective how fit they really are.
Later that day, I was able to fly in a C130J, which is the Coast Guard’s long fixed wing aircraft. The C130J is used for spotting vessels/people in search and rescue cases, air dropping supplies from the cargo hold, spotting illegal fishing vessels, and many more missions. The C130 is fixed wing, which means that it is a plane, versus rotary (helicopters). During flight school, pilots choose which type of aircraft they want to fly (rotary vs. fixed wing), and then they receive specialized training in that aircraft. Anyway, I got to fly in the C130 and for most of the flight I was in the cockpit. After we took off, I got to ask the pilots questions and listen in on the communications. Then, they let me fly for a little while. It was awesome! It wasn’t all that hard to fly in a straight line with all the technology there to help, but it was still really cool. For the rest of the flight, we observed as the pilots practiced landing and taking of (touch and go’s) from an airport in West Virginia.
The following day, I was hoisted in a rescue basket. That was by far the coolest thing I got to do. We met some salty Coast Guard auxiliarists, who brought us to the lift site in their private vessel. Then, the helo arrived. I didn’t expect it, but the helo was ridiculously loud over water so close to us, and there was water spraying all over the place. The helo got low to the water, and then the rescue swimmer jumped out. At his signal, I jumped in the water and swam over to him. Then, he dragged me through the water on my back in a typical rescue technique, and he put me into the basket. It was loud the entire time, wind from the rotors made it hard to breathe, and pellets of water flying at 70+ knots pelted me in the face. But, despite all that, I could only think of how cool the experience was. I was hoisted all the way up to the helo, where I high fived one of the crew, and I was immediately lowered back down. The swimmer took me out of the basket and back toward the boat. I thought the whole experience was awesome. Now, I have a much better understanding of what the helo rescues are like in real life.
To wrap up, CATP was awesome. We had fun stuff to do every day as part of the program, and at night we could go to the beach, fish, work out, hang out, or do whatever we wanted pretty much. I’m glad I went.
As always, feel free to email me with questions! Hunter.D.Stowes@uscga.edu.
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