How technology helped us find a missing aircraft

Google Earth Overlays for missing aircraft
Google Earth overlays for missing aircraft

On Tuesday evening, I was asked by the Civil Air Patrol Incident Commander (IC), Lt Col Mike Carlson to assist in the search for a missing aircraft. A Piper PA-32 was overdue on a flight from Dodge City, KS to Casper, WY. The aircraft was found on Thursday afternoon through the dedicated efforts of all involved. As a the planning section chief  (PSC) for the mission, I was responsible for helping to narrow the search and recommend future search areas. To accomplish this, we leveraged all the technology at our disposal. Here are the steps we took, the technologies used, and the lessons learned.

Google Earth

Google Earth was perhaps the most effective tool we had out our disposal. On Google Earth I plotted every detail I possibly could, and as a team we viewed the results of the plots to make search decisions. Once tasked as PSC, I first plotted the departure and arrival airports and the suspected flight path.

As the mission developed, we captured more information. The next major piece of information plotted were the NTAP points (radar points) of the suspected route of travel for the missing aircraft. I plotted each point and drew a path connecting each point, this showed us where to start our search.

CAP Grid System
CAP Grid System

We next overlayed the CAP Grid System for our area of search. This allowed us to rapidly determine search grids for our pilots. Using the grid system as a template, I shadowed the areas searched and proposed to be searched. This helped to tell a story and easily identified future search grids.

As the search progressed, we received input from ground teams in the area of sightings they were making. I would plot the coordinates of the ground team along the direction of the sighting and distance. After the mission concluded, one of the ground teams provide me with their GPS tracks. These were uploaded into Google Earth.

We each piece of the puzzle, we were able to narrow the search to being within .15 miles of the actual missing plane location.

Google earth makes it convenient to turn the display of an item on and off depending on the need. One of the key features that helped to quickly narrow the search was the 3-D view of the terrain. By changing the view from 2-D to 3-D, we were able to rule out proposed search areas.

SPOT

We use SPOT to keep an eye on our aircraft in flight. Approximately every 10 minutes, the SPOT device transmitted a signal that is displayed on a Web site we followed. In addition to regular status checks on the radio, the SPOT device allowed us to follow our aircraft in flight.

Upon the completion of each day’s sorties, we downloaded the tracks from SPOT in a KML file and posted it to the mission Google Earth KMZ file.

Dropbox

We used Dropbox to store documents vital to all essential personnel. Primarily, we used Dropbox to share the ever changing Google Earth KMZ file. Each time Google Earth was updated, we updated Dropbox. Additionally, we posted photos taken from the search aircraft into Dropbox.

Dropbox is a great tool for collaboration with a dispersed team. Our team was certainly dispersed; the IC was in Cody, the Public Information Officer (PIO) was in Cheyenne, and I was in Laramie. Additionally, we had aircrews flying out of Powell, Gillette, Casper, and Casper. We were also working with the Albany County Sheriff Department and search and rescue teams.

Skype

Skype was our primary means of communications among the mission staff. We created a Skype group that was used throughout the mission. Except for an occasional conference call, typically twice a day, we extensively used the chat features to keep the team up to date. At the end of each day, we copied the chat and saved it as a text file to the mission files.

Using the premium features of Skype, we were able to conduct conference calls with all essential agencies. The IC could conference in both Skype users and other phone numbers.

Because I could access Skype from all my computers, my iPad, and smartphone, I was always up to date on the status of the mission.

Evernote and Google Alerts

With Evernote and Google Alerts, we were able to track and capture all the news stories relating to the search. Here are the details for capturing important information to Evernote. I track and save all news feeds with the terms “Wyoming” and “Civil Air Patrol” in them.

WyoLink

WyoLink radio system was essential to the IC and his ability to communicate with aircrews, ground teams, and other essential agencies. Other systems have been substandard to this effective system. WyoLink has been a welcome augmentation to other systems we use such as mutual aid, and the CAP system.

Lessons Learned

This was perhaps one of the most effective and educational searches that we had carried out. However, there are always lessons learned.

  • I could have changed locations and integrated with the Albany County Sheriff to demonstrate how we are tracking the mission. I will still do this as well as establish relations for future missions.
  • We could have established a Dropbox folder specifically for this mission and get it shared to all parties earlier.
  • Take advantage of the 3-D capability of Google Earth earlier in the mission.
  • Work to get everyone on Skype chat to keep everyone informed.
  • Clear out Skype timely each morning.

I learned a lot on this mission and wanted to share my lessons learned.

 

21st Century Tools Through the Lens of Bloom’s Taxonomy

Over this past weekend, I attended the 1st Annual Wyoming TEC Conference. TEC stands for Technology in the Evolving Classroom. During this conference, I had the fortunate opportunity to sit in on Angie Spann‘s session on 21st Century Tools. Angie is a Librarian and Media Specialist at Sweetwater School District #1. Here is the session’s abstract, “Our students need several skills to help them learn and become productive in the 21st Century. This session will explore web 2.0 tools to help students learn/practice these skills that they will need. Skills discussed will focus on Bloom’s Taxonomy and well as 21st Century Literacies.”

During the presentation, Angie introduced recommended technologies to use based on Bloom’s Taxonomy, or more correctly the digital Bloom’s Taxonomy. Starting with the lower order thinking skills as outlined in the revised digital Bloom’s Taxonomy, she also highlighted the digital skills associated with each level.

Bloom's Taxonomy
Comparison of Bloom’s new and Old Taxonomies

Remembering

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Remembering level:

  • Quizlet – “Quizlet is the largest flash cards and study games website with over 11 million free sets of flashcards covering every possible subject. It’s the best place to play educational games, memorize vocabulary and study online.”
  • Quizstar – “Use QuizStar to create online quizzes for your students, disseminate quizzes to students, automatically grade quizzes and view the quiz results online.”
  • Mindmeister – A mind mapping tool.
  • Diigo – Social bookmarking tool making it easy to collect, annotate, and share references.
  • Evernote – A tool for capturing all of your digital content with the additional benefit of accessing it anywhere.
  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.

Understanding

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Understanding level:

  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.
  • Popplet – Popplet is a tool for developing ideas in the form of a mind map
  • Pinterest – “Pinterest is a virtual pinboard. Pinterest allows you to organize and share all the beautiful things you find on the web. You can browse pinboards created by other people to discover new things and get inspiration from people who share your interests.”
  • Pearltrees – “Pearltrees is a place to collect, organize and share everything you like on the web.” It is another method for collecting and organize resources and ideas.

Applying

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Applying level:

  • Scribble maps – This tool allows you to draw on maps and share them with your friends.
  • Gliffy – With Gliffy you can easily create professional-quality flowcharts, diagrams, floor plans, technical drawings, and more!
  • Evernote – A tool for capturing all of your digital content with the additional benefit of accessing it anywhere.
  • Jing – With Jing, you can capture 5-minute screencasts.
  • WordPress – WordPress is a blogging tool that will also enable you to create a fully functional Web site.
  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.
  • Pixton – Pixton is a comic creation tool.
  • Slide rocket – SlideRocket is an online presentation tool. You can create presentations in SlideRocket as well as upload and enhance presentations.

Analyzing

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Analyzing level:

  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.
  • Kids zone: Create a graph – Kids Zone: Create a graph is a youngster friendly site where students can build their own graphs and charts.
  • Exploratree – “Exploratree is a free web resource where you can access a library of ready-made interactive thinking guides, print them, edit them or make your own.”
  • Many eyes – This is an IBM experiment. It is a collection of data visualizations.
  • Google earth – “Google Earth allows you to travel the world through a virtual globe and view satellite imagery, maps, terrain, 3D buildings, and much more.”

Evaluating

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Evaluating level:

  • Twitter – Twitter is a micro-blogging tool. “Twitter is a real-time information network that connects you to the latest stories, ideas, opinions and news about what you find interesting.”
  • Storify – “Storify helps its users tell stories by curating social media.”
  • Rubistar – “RubiStar is a free tool to help teachers create quality rubrics.”
  • Protagonize – Protagonize allows you write original stories.
  • Edmodo – “Edmodo provides teachers and students a secure place to connect and collaborate, share content and educational applications, and access homework, grades, class discussions and notifications.”
  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.
  • WordPress – WordPress is a blogging tool that will also enable you to create a fully functional Web site.
  • YouTube – YouTube is the most popular video viewing site. They display over 2 billion videos per day.

Creating

Here are tools that Angie highlighted to help students engage with the Creating level:

  • Google docs – A tool set that will allow you to create and share your work online. The tool set includes applications that allow you to create documents, spreadsheets, presentations, drawings, and forms.
  • Wikispaces – Wikispaces is a secure environment where students can collaborate using text, video, audio, and imagery.
  • Glogster – “Glogster debuted in 2007 as a unique social network based on the creation and sharing of Glogs – interactive posters loaded with text, graphics, music, videos, and more.”
  • Vuvox – “VUVOX is an easy to use production and instant sharing service that allows you to mix, create and blend your personal media – video, photos and music into rich personal expressions.”
  • Storybird – “Storybirds are short, art-inspired stories you make to share, read, and print.”
  • Animoto -“Turn your photos, video clips, and music into stunning video masterpieces to share with everyone.”
  • Voice thread – “A VoiceThread is a collaborative, multimedia slide show that holds images, documents, and videos and allows people to navigate slides and leave comments in 5 ways – using voice (with a mic or telephone), text, audio file, or video (via a webcam).”

Angie Spann did a great job exposing the participants to these tools. Now it is a matter to explore them at greater depth. I look forward to attending the next Wyoming TEC conference to see what else Angie has to offer.

How Technology Helped our Air Force Operations Evaluation

Civil Air Patrol Logo
Civil Air Patrol

Wyoming Wing of the Civil Air Patrol just completed its 2011 Air Force Operations Evaluation, and received an overall rating of Successful. This rating was in part to the successful use of technology throughout the exercise. Here is what we used an how it helped.

Skype – Starting on the first day of the exercise, we used Skype to conduct our evening meetings. Skype is a program where you can conduct conference calls through your computer. With a paid membership, you can get your own telephone number and call telephone numbers. With Skype, we were able to conduct a conference call each evening and stay abreast of the various scenarios we were tracking.  You can download Skype from skype.com.

Dropbox – The second program we leveraged heavily during the evaluation was Dropbox. Dropbox is a virtual storage drive that has residence in the cloud. We provided access to this shared drive to our entire team. The team could then add documents they needed during the evaluation. These documents varied from various forms for the Incident Action Plan (IAP) to Google Earth overlays. In the event of a power outage, Dropbox was still available on the local computers. Changes to files were automatically synced with the other computers. You can get a Dropbox account from dropbox.com.

Google Earth – Google Earth was the most recent addition to our arsenal. With Google Earth, we were able to create various overlays to aid in mission planning. These overlays included infrastructure like dams, bridges, and power plants, which were used as targets throughout the week. We were able to create an overlay showing all airports in Wyoming. When we received flood and missing aircraft scenarios, we built overlays to show affected areas, routes of flight, weather, and proposed search areas. With Google Earth, we were able to rapidly measure distance from one point to another; this helped us determine our time on target times. You can get Google Earth from earth.google.com.

SPOT – SPOT is a GPS transmitter that allows us to keep track of our aircraft and ground teams while they are away from mission base. Approximately every 10 minutes the transmitter sends out a signal. The result of the signal is reflected on a Web site that shows the location of each device and its travel path. In the event we lose contact with one of aircraft or ground teams, we have a set of grid coordinates where we can start looking. You can get SPOT from findmespot.com.

Assort other programs – During the week, we also used a number of other programs to help us achieve our mission. We used Microsoft Excel to plan mission times, calculate our finances, and track target lists. We used a special spreadsheet developed by the Lubbock Fire Department to build our IAP.  This spreadsheet has saved me countless hours because of its updating capabilities. I use PDF Split and Merge to merge a series of PDF documents into one PDF file. We also use a number of Civil Air Patrol specific programs from WMIRS and e-services to the IMU program. IMU allows us to cleanly create lists of personnel, vehicles, and aircraft assigned to the mission base. IMU can be downloaded from http://wmu.nat.cap.gov/.

With a wing as small as Wyoming, it is imperative to gain whatever advantage possible. Technology allows us to gain an advantage especially when short staffed. Each new technology we have used has helped make mission planning and execution easier.

Civil Air Patrol, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, is a nonprofit organization with more than 61,000 members nationwide. CAP, in its Air Force auxiliary role, performs 90 percent of continental U.S. inland search and rescue missions as tasked by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center and was credited by the AFRCC with saving 113 lives in fiscal year 2010. Its volunteers also perform homeland security, disaster relief and drug interdiction missions at the request of federal, state and local agencies. The members play a leading role in aerospace education and serve as mentors to the more than 26,000 young people currently participating in CAP cadet programs. CAP has been performing missions for America for 69 years. It is a major partner of Wreaths Across America, an initiative to remember, honor and teach about the sacrifices of U.S. military veterans. For more information on Civil Air Patrol, visit www.gocivilairpatrol.com or www.capvolunteernow.com.