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Hurricane Relief Flying

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  • Hurricane Relief Flying

    A few weeks ago you may have heard that a hurricane came on shore at the NC coast, near Wilmington. I used to live there, but our current house is 200 miles inland. The storm fortunately lost a lot of strength before landfall, and by the time it reached us the expected 10-15 inches of rain turned in to 4 inches of slow and steady rain that was mostly soaked into the dry ground, not even causing the creek to rise. But for many of our friends to the east, there was catastrophic flooding. Like 36 inches of rain, in a flat area with nowhere for it to go.

    A few days after the storm, pretty much just as the conditions were returning to VMC, some guy made a post on our EAA Chapter Facebook page about a volunteer group called Operation Airdrop. They had coalesced last year around the response to Harvey and Irma, and were planning to set up an operation to respond to Florence. I looked into it to make sure it wasn't a spam post, and it looked legit. I signed up for their emails to see what it was all about.

    The plan was shaping up to have supplies delivered to RDU, where an under-construction FBO building had been made available as a base of operations. The two FBOs had agreed to waive fees. Local leaders in the most impacted areas could call the base and express their needs, and if planes and supplies were available, they would be dispatched. Pilots could show up at RDU, sign a waiver, and fly as much as they cared to. It all sounded pretty reasonable, and I had the next day off and was in town. And most of all I had an airplane that could carry 700 pounds of whatever to wherever.

    But I had some doubts. 700 pounds is really not that much in the realm of a semi truck or even a heavily loaded pickup truck. Was this a case where pilots are just getting together so that they could feel like they were doing something, regardless of whether that "something" was really consequential? Would they be well-organized enough to not waste a lot of time? Would I fly the 2 hours to RDU only to find that they had lots of pilots standing around and nothing to deliver? I really had lots of things to do at home. I wanted especially to practice my tig welding on aluminum, for an upcoming paramotor project.

    What finally pushed me over the fence was thinking about the benefits to the image of GA. Even if we are only delivering small plane loads of stuff, at least there will be a news story here and there about delivering stuff. And of course there is the starfish aspect, where the small amount of supplies are not consequential to the overall effort, but are quite consequential to the few people who receive those supplies. In my mind I had the nagging reminder that we had been spared from the flooding this time. Furthermore, if I'm going to be blessed to own an airplane with this capability, when the call comes to put it to use, why would I not answer?

    So I stopped by the grocery store to round up some food for the day, (not having the forethought to also load up a plane full of stuff to take with me, but lots of guys did that too), and departed for RDU with full tanks. I arrived just before lunch time and there was a flurry of activity. This was the first or second day of operations and things were still getting ironed out. Everyone there was a volunteer and some knew more than others about what was going on, but a system was emerging. A call had come from Southport NC, just across the river from Wilmington, for bottled water. A trailer was reportedly arriving in the next 30 minutes with a dozen cases of bottled water to distribute. After a little milling around, that trailer did arrive. It turns out it was a guy that had driven from Ohio with that trailer load of whatever he could round up. I loaded about 450 pounds of the bottled water into the seats where people usually sit, added a box of diapers in the cargo area, and some lightweight first aid supplies here and there. I had a little more room and could take a little more weight, but the plane always flies better with less, and there was no dire need for the lift at that particular moment.

    The 1-hour flight south from RDU was totally uneventful from an aviation standpoint, though it did take a while to taxi to the runway. There was a C-17 preparing to depart, along with aviation assets from just about all of the government entities you would expect. There was the usual airline traffic, and lots of us doing the same thing. Later in the week the traffic built to a point where the Airdrop guys had to coordinate with ATC to develop some procedures to manage the traffic.

    Flying along, the scenery looked pretty normal until about Fayetteville, where I started seeing things under water that weren't supposed to be. This was a couple of days after the strongest of the rain, and there were still long stretches of roads that looked like rivers. Commercial chicken and hog houses were flooded to their eaves in some places. Four lane roads were flooded, and lots of places that weren't under water were isolated by flooding on the roads to and from. I landed in SUT just before a Cherokee 6 carrying a full load of the same supplies, and was met immediately by volunteers with a pickup truck. It would have been more elegant for me to stay on that side of the state and fly a few more hops, but I had to get back home before dark, so I flew home from there.

    In the end, I think it was totally worth it. It was a fun trip, good practice, and the airplane always needs more flying. I only carried about 500 pounds of stuff, but as the week went on, the lift started to really grow. A couple of nascar teams brought in their regional jets. A chartered Shorts flew 5000 pounds of leftover relief supplies from Texas. The total after one week was 200,000 pounds. In the weeks since, I've had plenty of time to practice my welding.

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  • #2
    Really cool Jared. I was wondering how you fared.

    "700 pounds of whatever to wherever" is the best BH catchphrase I've heard so far.
    Mark
    Scratch building Patrol #275
    Hood River, OR

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    • #3
      Hey Jared,
      I did the same thing on Friday 9/21 flying with a neighbor in his Bonanza. We were able to load 700 lbs into it with the rear seats out.
      It was semi-organized chaos at RDU with lots of volunteers, many of whom did not appear to be very familiar with GA aircraft.
      All told, it was a good image-builder for GA and hopefully the supplies were delivered to needy folks who could make use of them.

      Patrick

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      Last edited by patrickh99; 10-04-2018, 09:30 PM.

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      • jaredyates
        jaredyates commented
        Editing a comment
        The Bonanza and Cherokee 6 guys were able to lift a lot more than the Bearhawk for sure!

    • #4
      Jared,

      Thanks for sharing the story. And thanks for contributing to the recovery effort. One of my friends here locally was part of the initial start-up of this group, and has a TON of stories about the airdrop delivering desperately needed supplies to somewhat further-out locations during the Harvey recovery. One particular story was a plane load just like yours, with as much water as they could haul, plus baby diapers to fill the remaining space. They were met on the ground by a group of people who had been without any drinking water for almost 24 hours, and had used their last diapers that morning. Grateful doesn't even begin to cover their reaction...

      Operation Airdrop did yeoman work, after being initially told by FEMA and the FAA to stay out of the disaster area immediately after Harvey. They had to really push the feds to get permission to fly into the disaster zone. But they did great work, and by the time Irma hit, the FEMA folks were quite happy to see them show up with their supplies, and used them pretty effectively. I would have loved to get involved with the flying, but my itty-bitty Citabria can only carry about 150 lbs of cargo... Instead, I donated fuel to a couple of guys flying a C-340 that could carry more cargo in a single trip than I could have hauled in a week.
      Jim Parker
      Farmersville, TX (NE of Dallas)
      Patrol Quick-Build Serial # P312

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      • #5
        Originally posted by JimParker256 View Post
        Jared,

        Thanks for sharing the story. And thanks for contributing to the recovery effort. One of my friends here locally was part of the initial start-up of this group, and has a TON of stories about the airdrop delivering desperately needed supplies to somewhat further-out locations during the Harvey recovery. One particular story was a plane load just like yours, with as much water as they could haul, plus baby diapers to fill the remaining space. They were met on the ground by a group of people who had been without any drinking water for almost 24 hours, and had used their last diapers that morning. Grateful doesn't even begin to cover their reaction...

        Operation Airdrop did yeoman work, after being initially told by FEMA and the FAA to stay out of the disaster area immediately after Harvey. They had to really push the feds to get permission to fly into the disaster zone. But they did great work, and by the time Irma hit, the FEMA folks were quite happy to see them show up with their supplies, and used them pretty effectively. I would have loved to get involved with the flying, but my itty-bitty Citabria can only carry about 150 lbs of cargo... Instead, I donated fuel to a couple of guys flying a C-340 that could carry more cargo in a single trip than I could have hauled in a week.
        I get the feeling that if I had been able to stay around for a few more days I probably could have done a little more niche flying. One of my semi-local friends was there the next day with his Helio and I think they were able to dispatch to less traditional destinations.

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        • #6
          Originally posted by jaredyates View Post

          I get the feeling that if I had been able to stay around for a few more days I probably could have done a little more niche flying. One of my semi-local friends was there the next day with his Helio and I think they were able to dispatch to less traditional destinations.
          And I think THAT is precisely where GA shows its true value. During the Harvey aftermath, some of the outlying communities were almost unreachable – at least from Houston, where the relief efforts were being coordinated by FEMA. Rockport was the hardest hit area, and their airport was accessible, so a LOT of supplies were flown in there, but several other airports in that area were also critical, because so many of the roads, underpasses, etc. were under water.
          Jim Parker
          Farmersville, TX (NE of Dallas)
          Patrol Quick-Build Serial # P312

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          • #7
            Thanks, Jared. One can never imagine what hope a single case of water can bring to someone who doesn’t have any.

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