Top Cover Pilots to the Rescue
Journals, 2001 Migration
cranes to Florida isn't always about flying low and slow. Being close
the ground has its problems. For one thing, it's difficult to see
other aircraft in the
area and two, itís not always possible to communicate with all ground
crew members and local air traffic controllers. That's where pilots
Paula and Don Lounsbury
and their Cessna 182 come to the rescue. Paula and her husband Don
have flown in the cover position each Operation Migration since 1993.
They have kept watch over
the pilots and their charges—first Canada geese, then Trumpeter
swans, Sandhill cranes and now the precious cargo of endangered
Whooping Cranes. Each day,
the Lounsburys leave the overnight camp before
sunrise and before the rest of the pilots and ground crew even wake
up. Don and Paula drive
to where they have their Cessna parked and begin their preflight
checklist. The Lounsburys are volunteers. The 2001 Whooping Crane
Reintroduction was the 7th migration for this
Ontario pair. Here are two journal accounts of their flights during
the historic 2001 migration:
October 19, 2001 (By Heather Ray)
Twenty minutes into today's flight, increasing headwinds splintered
the flock of seven birds into two groups. With three birds off
on their own, Deke closed in and
managed to pick them up. Just when everything seemed to be all right,
the group of three decided to turn around and head back to their
traveling overnight pen. Deke
immediately turned 180 degrees and began chasing the birds who were
flying a lot faster now that the wind was at their backs. Paula
banked the Cessna around and moved to the side where she could
see the group of three and
Deke's ultralight. She radioed down to Deke, asking if he could
see the birds ahead
and with the information that
if he maintained his heading, he would fly right up to them.
Now that Deke had the cranes back on his wing, he needed someplace to land and confine
them. Paula radioed ahead to the ground crew that Deke had turned around and was
only minutes away. The ground crew had packed up about half of the overnight pen
and was now scrambling to reassemble it!
With Deke on final approach, Paula turned again and began to scan
the skies for Joe who had also turned around. For several minutes
she searched below, noting how difficult
it was to spot the small aircraft and birds. Joe was in radio contact
and called out landmarks as he flew. Soon, we spotted him over the
Wisconsin River. He was on
course heading toward the overnight pen but one bird was lagging
far behind. Paula radioed that he was losing one bird and should
turn around to pick it up. Joe responded
quickly but now, flying toward the bird, he had difficulty picking
up its narrow profile against the sky. From her vantage point, Paula
could see the trailing bird
and Joeís aircraft with the three cranes behind it. Knowing he was
on course, she patiently waited for the distance to close. The crane
quickly tucked in behind
the others following Joe almost as if it was returning to family.
After escorting Joe's ultralight back the overnight site, Paula turned around once
again and set a course back to the airfield and hanger. Tomorrow, the little Cessna
will once again be high in the sky shepherding its own flock of bright yellow ultralights,
white cranes and costumed pilots to their next destination.
November 12, 2001 (By Paula Lounsbury)
A beautiful day dawned in Tennessee, but as the birds and trikes lifted
off for the morning departure south, things began to unravel rather
abruptly. One uncooperative
bird eventually was led back to our departure point by Bill and Deke
so he could be boxed for transport in the "bird-taxi." With the unexpected
return to the field by Deke and Bill, the three trikes became separated
and Joe was once again flying
below me, alone with his flock, without the benefit of a chase aircraft.
The air was unexpectedly turbulent and the visibility was poor in
the morning haze. After
deviating from our planned route in search of calmer air, Joe decided
it would be wise to land the birds in a field rather than continue
to our destination and risk
losing a bird enroute. From my position aloft, I first helped Joe
select a suitable field in which to land the tiny trike and the cranes.
Next I assisted Bill, who was
quickly nearing our position, to locate Joe and the birds. Deke was
last to come in so I had to first determine exactly where he was
and once I knew this, I talked
him in to the unexpected stop to join up with his fellow pilots.
Next, as if this werenít enough, I radioed the ground crew to advise them
that there had been a change of plans and directed them by road to the location
could set up the temporary
pen. All in all a typically busy morning. Now, where did Bill go?
Try This! Journaling Questions
- What would be most challenging about flying Top Cover? How is the job of this
pilot different from flying lead or chase with the ultralight?
- Have you ever volunteered for something in order to be helpful? What were the
rewards for you? What do you think the rewards are for Don and Paula?
North is pleased to feature this educational adventure made possible
by the Whooping
Crane Eastern Partnership (WCEP).