After Hurricane Irma moved through Florida, Civil Air Patrol needed to launch several missions to respond and provide relief. In order to get easier access to the runways at Punta Gorda Airport, CAP asked members of the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter if it could use their facilities.
The members of EAA Chapter 565 flung open their doors to help out. Stan Smith, chapter president, said some cleaning up needed to be done, but luckily the hangar didn’t take much damage from the storm and everybody was able to get to work pretty quickly.
“We helped CAP set up some of their items such as a communications trailer,” Smith said. “We went out to assist if they needed anything.”
CAP Lt. Col. Jeffrey Carlson, public affairs officer for Florida Wing Group 5, said the airport was close to the hardest-hit areas and had fuel after the storm, making it an obvious choice for CAP operations. In addition, Smith and Chapter 565 postponed a chapter lobster dinner and made other accommodations to ensure CAP could do what it needed to do for as long as it needed to do it, Carlson said.
“The EAA facility is well-equipped to handle mission needs,” he said. “The location of the building allows CAP aircrews to have easy access to the ramp area designated by the airport for the mission’s flight line.”
“The Florida Warbirds Squadron 24 (another EAA group) offered an adjacent building for CAP’s flight operations,” Carlson added. “Outside, there is room for the CAP communication trailer and ample parking space.”
“Warbirds Squadron 24 stepped right up and the president over there said ‘yes, if you need to use the facility, which is right next to ours, use it,’” Smith said. “They sustained a little bit more damage. We basically had none, but they had some to their roof, but they used their facility as well.”
Carlson said CAP and EAA have a long history of working together all across the U.S.
“Many CAP squadrons and EAA chapters across the country work together on a daily basis,” he said. “The two organizations share a common purpose to promote general aviation and to create opportunities for youth to gain an appreciation for the personal enjoyment of flying as well as discover career opportunities.
“The EAA’s Young Eagles program and CAP’s cadet orientation flights expose thousands of youth each year to the joy of flying,” Carlson said.
Local CAP leaders knew they had friends in their local EAA counterparts thanks to the two groups’ history of working together in day-to-day activities. Lt. Col. Jim Kaletta, commander of the Florida Wing’s Charlotte County Composite Squadron, is also a director of Chapter 565, and the chapter’s website manager, Cadet Lt. Col. Mikehla Hicks, is a Charlotte County squadron member preparing to get her pilot certificate and attend the U.S. Air Force Academy.
Kaletta was the one who initially reached out to Smith about CAP using Chapter 565’s facility as part of its support missions.
CAP aircrews have been flying reconnaissance missions since Sept. 12 and will continue to carry out those missions for several more weeks, according to Carlson.
“CAP is responding to requests from federal and state agencies for aerial photography surveys of area affected by Hurricane Irma,” he said. “Once collected, the digital images are uploaded and used by emergency management officials to make decisions for deploying resources.”
The partnership between EAA and CAP is helping save lives in Florida, and Carlson believes it shows how effective the two groups can be when they work in tandem.
“Organizations like EAA and CAP depend on partnerships to serve the local community,” he said. “In this case, the collaboration helps to strengthen both programs. There is much potential for local squadrons and chapters across the country to explore by working together.”