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When a former pilot turns his hand to thrillers you can take their authenticity
for granted. His writing is exceptional and the dialogue, plots and characters
are first-class... far too good to be missed.'
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--CLIVE CUSSLER

RIP C. Arden Heffernan
by Dale Brown, [IMAGE]2014

ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED AT DaleBrown.Info, 25 April 2014

[MEGAFORTRESS.COM image] Back in 2007 when I was flying out of Minden-Tahoe Airport in northwestern Nevada, the place was abuzz because of the search for Steve Fossett, a wealthy adventurer who at the time held 60 world records for various risky daredevil activities, most involving aviation. He disappeared on a scouting flight over the mountains southeast of Lake Tahoe. Little Minden Airport became the base of operations for what was to become the largest and most complex aerial search operation in American history, involving hundreds of aviators and dozens of planes from all over the West.

I remember going into the Taildragger Cafe at the airport with my brother Ken and seeing all these guys wearing Air Force flight suits and rank but having weird patches I didn't recognize...but mostly I noticed they were *old*, and some had definitely non-regulation hair and waistlines. Are they contractors? Retired military guys pressed into service for the search?

Ken explained that they were Civil Air Patrol: civilian volunteers trained by the Air Force to conduct aerial searches. I thought: how cool is that? A novel about these guys might be interesting.

I didn't do anything about the idea for a few years, but in 2010, prompted by the insistence of Personnel Officer Connie Lapier, my first CAP contact, I showed up for a meeting. The squadron commander welcomed me and asked me to explain why I was there, and I replied that I was thinking of writing a novel about the Civil Air Patrol, and could I fly in a few search missions with you guys?

I think I was by far the youngest guy in the room.

This patient grandfatherly guy explains to me that, maybe, we can fly you as a journalist, but the best way to learn about CAP, he said, was to join CAP. And because I was a pilot, I could train to fly as a Mission Pilot for CAP for very low cost and learn all there was to know about CAP search operations. I agreed.

My mentor after joining CAP was Brad Spires, who hustled me through the process of becoming a Mission Pilot in very short order, but my flight instructor and spiritual guide was Carrol Arden Heffernan, the squadron commander.

I had well over 1,500 hours' flight time and experience with a half-dozen different aircraft, including twins and turboprops; CAP flew thirty year-old single-engine piston-powered Cessna 182s. I thought I knew how to fly. I actually DID know how to fly: I became a Mission Pilot in just a few months.

I could fly...but Arden knew how to make an airplane DANCE.

I flew two practice flights with Arden before I took a Form 5 checkride in the 182. The first hour was to demonstrate to Arden that I really was a pilot and could handle a C182. We did the usual stuff: takeoffs and landings, stalls, slow flight, crosswind landings (important when flying out of Minden), etc. Routine stuff. I didn't scare Arden too badly, I think.

The second hour was: OK, bub, how well do you REALLY know how to fly? Turns out I didn't know as much as I should have, and Arden Heffernan showed me what I was missing.

Arden said: you think a steep turn is 45 degrees of bank? Let's try 60 degrees. If it's to save your life flying up a dead-end canyon, let's do 90 degrees. You've never seen a C182 descend nearly VERTICALLY over an airport if you're stuck over bad weather and low on fuel? Let me show you how to do it. Low on fuel and the airport is way out of crosswind limits? Let's do some extreme crosswind landings and let me show you how to get your airplane safely on the ground in any situation.

Yeah, yeah, you anal retentives, not all this stuff was totally legal (without parachutes on). But Arden taught me stuff that could save my life and those of my crew on a search mission. He made me a better pilot by imparting his years of knowledge on a newbie. For that I will be forever grateful.

I flew with Arden only a few more times after I became a Mission Pilot. I will always remember him using his fly-swatter in the cockpit, admonishing me to run a checklist or pay attention to something or covering up an instrument he wanted to simulate failed. He was a friend, but the flight instructor in him never departed--if I was doing anything he did not approve of, I knew about it right away, even if we were back in the squadron ready room or having lunch in the Taildragger.

Arden had some medical and personal issues that slowed him down and eventually ended his extraordinary journey of leadership, caring, service, and education. But none of that diminishes the man, his knowledge, and his service to his country, his squadron mates, his students, and his friends--all of which I am proud to count as one.

Kick back on the patio overlooking the runway, relax, and keep an eye on your fellow aviators, Arden. Talk us in as we do that big-ass crosswind landing or do that next turn back in mountainous terrain after we thought we saw something on the ground. I'll be listening.

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