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When information takes flight, AFDW's imagination soars

BOLLING AIR FORCE BASE, D.C. -- Colonel Scott Chesnut, Air Force District of Washington vice commander, observed a day-long Civil Air Patrol search and rescue exercise as a guest of the Maryland CAP Wing in Middle River, MD, on Sept. 16.

"I was truly amazed at the diversity I saw all around me during my visit to the Maryland wing," said Colonel Scott Chesnut, AFDW vice commander.

"The cadets' ages ranged from 10-years old to much older than me, and all were voluntarily working as a team contributing their talents and skills to a hugely important state of Maryland search and rescue exercise for the entire weekend," Chesnut said.

"I saw many ways in which AFDW can partner with CAP to support our homeland defense mission in the national capital region. I was very impressed," he said.

The main purpose of the CAP SAREX was to test capabilities of the unit's two new, high-tech search and rescue airborne systems.

The Airborne Real-Time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance System -- ARCHER for short -- is a custom-designed system of hyperspectral imaging hardware and software.

According to CAP Major Christian Ready, pilot, the hyperspectral imaging, in an aerial application, allows an operator to program the "spectral signature" of an object into an onboard computer. This allows a sensitive HSI onboard camera to detect and pinpoint any object (s) on the ground that match that signature.

"The HSI sensor is also capable of detecting any anomalies, objects significantly different from the background where they are located, so the data on possible "hits" that match the spectral signature or anomalies can then be processed in real-time, stored, analyzed and transmitted to ground-teams," said Maj. Ready.

The Civil Air Patrol's ARCHER system is the nation's first fully operational, large-scale hyperspectral imaging system.

Another interesting point is that CAP developed ARCHER in cooperation with the Naval Research Laboratory, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the U. S. Coast Guard Research & Development Center. ARCHER is the largest interagency project CAP has undertaken in its 63-year history.

To compliment its use of the ARCHER system, Civil Air Patrol developed the Satellite-transmitted Digital Imaging System or SDIS technology which it uses nationwide to take high-resolution aerial images of targets on land or at sea. These images are sent back in-flight by satellite communications to an Internet-capable computer on the ground.

This system weighs less than 12 pounds and includes a high-resolution digital camera, laptop computer and satellite telephone. Images are transmitted via email to emergency operations centers on the ground in support of disaster relief and homeland security missions. Delivery time depends on the size of the image, but averages less than two minutes for cropped, higher-resolution images.

A fairly new Gippsland GA-8 Airvan serves as the system platform for these two new high-tech additions at the Maryland CAP Wing.

The Maryland CAP wing's mission was to participate in an exercise and test their new technological systems. AFDW's goal was to explore new joint partnership opportunities in the National Capital Region. Both organizations successfully executed their missions.

For more information on CAP go to www.cap.gov or call 1-800-FLY-2338.