Friday, June 13, 2008

Air Guard plane provides documentation of flood damage

by Army Spc. Cassandra Groce, Kentucky National Guard

An RC-26 aircraft provided live footage about washed out roads, damage to infrastructure and other information that Indiana may have lacked June 11 for the Indiana National Guard. The aircraft and aircrew were from the 130th Airlift Wing out of Charleston, W.V. (US Army photo/Staff Sgt. Marvin Cornell)

INDIANAPOLIS (AFPN) -- Indiana National Guard officials here have received live footage of flood damage throughout the state from an advanced Air National Guard counterdrug aircraft. The footage will assist with missions and help local governments plan to repair the damage.

"It can show officials where roads are washed out and what damage there is to infrastructure," said Maj. Mark Jeffries, the missions systems officer for the West Virginia Air National Guard's 130th Airlift Wing based in Charleston.

The RC-26 is one of 11 surveillance planes operated by the Air National Guard. While originally designated for counterdrug work, it has since been used for other domestic duties such as support for natural disasters. Its advanced visual capabilities are superior to typical footage captured with cameras.

"The RC-26B is equipped with an infrared camera which can pick up any leakage from a power plant, for example," Major Jeffries said. "We can also get nice prints from the still cameras."

Still photos of damage can be helpful during planning stages, allowing users to write on photos if necessary and also show the damage from a bird's-eye view with a wider angle. Video footage is shot at a different angle. The RC-26 can also stay in the air at least twice as long as a helicopter.

This response is not just a one-time, one-state focused effort, said Lt. Col. Mike Shiels, the branch chief for counterdrug aviation at the National Guard Bureau.

"It is part of an overall national response framework that the NGB has spent countless man hours developing with all 54 states and territories," he said. "It is by no means perfect, and we have numerous improvements to be made. We learn more and get better at it each time we employ this capability."

An RC-26 from the Mississippi Air National Guard's 186th Air Refueling Wing in Meridian arrived in Wisconsin on June 11 to fly over dozens of affected areas in the state and provide live, broadcast-quality video of problem areas.

The capability, which allows engineers on the ground to begin the planning process for reconstruction of damaged infrastructure, was employed after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, tested during last year's California wildfires, and is operational for the first time in these flooded states.

The Mississippi aircraft was made available as a substitute for Wisconsin's own RC-26 from the Wisconsin Air National Guard's 115th Fighter Wing in Madison which is currently deployed in support the war on terrorism.