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84th RADES members support search and rescue mission resulting in two lives saved

Screenshot from computer showing aircraft flight path

The Civil Air Patrol’s volunteer National Radar Analysis Team's tracking of the Piper PA28 Cherokee’s Emergency Locator Transmission activation, using this data provided by NRAT guided Arizona authorities to the crash site locating two survivors, screenshot taken by volunteer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 2, 2021. Five of the six volunteer NRAT radar analysts are former or current 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron members; this is the 44th missing aircraft mission that NRAT have tracked in 2021, with 35 finds and 12 saves. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Screenshot from computer showing aircraft flight path

The Civil Air Patrol’s volunteer National Radar Analysis Team using their Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B) data tracking the path of the Piper PA28 Cherokee’s to Arizona crash site, screenshot taken by volunteer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Washington, Aug. 2, 2021; two survivors located. Five of the six volunteer NRAT radar analysts are former or current 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron members; this is the 44th missing aircraft mission that NRAT have tracked in 2021, with 35 finds and 12 saves. (U.S. Air Force photo)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah --

Arizona emergency responders were able to quickly locate a small plane which crashed in a sparsely populated area near Amado, Arizona, on Aug. 2, thanks in large part to the combined work of Civil Air Patrol’s volunteer National Radar Analysis Team.

The plane, a Piper PA28 Cherokee, single-engine aircraft with two people on board, lost contact with Air Traffic Control on Aug. 2 around 9:45 a.m. flying near Amado, Arizona.

The Air Force Rescue Coordination Center received reports of an Emergency Locator Transmitter activation then requested the NRAT’s assistance in the search.  

Lt. Col. John Henderson, CAP vice commander of NRAT and 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron member, immediately began reviewing the NRAT’s radar data.  Henderson found a probable crash location within 15 minutes, using a combination of CAP Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast, or ADS-B, and radar data. The site was three and a half miles further west of the ELT location. 

“This happened so fast that I had information and products ready to up-channel to AFRCC before we even went to mission, so it was a solo mission for me,” said Henderson.  “During our normal mission flow, there would have been several NRAT analysts working the mission earlier on.”

The ADS-B Track Checker used to locate the crash allows the NRAT to instantly see any ADS-B hits on an aircraft, if equipped and it is operational.  

“This mission was pretty easy for us with the tools, data, and systems we have in place allowing us to quickly respond to a missing aircraft report,” remarked Henderson. “We had positive identification on the N Number with the ADS-B data and were able to quickly transition over to the continuing radar data.”

Since the airplane’s end of the track search data provided no altitude information, NRAT used Radar Coverage Prediction tools to determine the altitude of the aircraft. When combined with weather data (Meteorological Aerodrome Reports and Next Generation Weather Radar), the information used by the NRAT provides important insights into the physical environment the aircrew was experiencing at the time of the mishap.

Henderson continued, “we lost the aircraft at 200 feet above the ground, which gave us confidence that the plane was near that location.”

NRAT’s quick response and accurate information saved a lot of search time. Henderson continued, “they would have found them eventually based on the Federal Aviation Administration, and other sources of information, and there were some ELT signals that were picked up by satellite in the area but our information was exact within a few hundred feet,” said Henderson.

During a ‘typical’ mission the CAP radar team normally analyzes and processes millions of radar targets in raw data, reducing them down to determine the aircraft’s correct radar track. The team is then able to pinpoint the downed aircraft’s location saving search teams a lot of time with NRAT’s quick response and accurate information.

“This is an excellent demonstration of how 84th RADES experts can apply their technical skills outside of our primary mission, and as members of NRAT are able to expedite national rescue efforts and ultimately save lives,” said Lt. Col. Jesse Scott, 84th RADES commander.

The team is now up to 12 saves this year which sets their record for number of annual saves over the past 13 years.

“The NRAT team, with its six radar analysts spread across the country, work together with team developed tools to quickly locate the objective,” said Henderson. “This is the 44th missing aircraft mission we have done so far this year, with 35 finds and 12 saves. Our analysis results flow through the AFRCC to the searchers in the field.”

The entire NRAT team has volunteered over 400 hours to support search and rescue missions so far this year, and have a deep connection with the 505th Command and Control Wing with five members being past and present 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron personnel.

“Overall, this goes to show the value that the 84th RADES team brings the collective whole of government approach for not only Homeland Defense, but also ensuring our detection/ID systems remain current and capable,” Col. Adam Shelton, 505th Test and Training Group commander, Hurlburt Field, Florida.

The 84th RADES at Hill Air Force Base, Utah, reports to the 505th Test and Training Group, which is assigned to the 505th Command and Control Wing; both are headquartered at Hurlburt Field, Florida.