I always was interested in flying.
From the early days of my childhood, I’d watch on TV shows like Flash Gordon and Buck Rodgers (the original series; in re-runs I’m not that old!). I’d also watch shows like the Thunderbirds and Fireball XL5 (those marionettes of the future) or war movies like 12 O’clock High or Wings of Eagles.
Whether they were flying a space ship or B17, I was always fascinated. But flying was expensive. The only person I knew who was a pilot was a neighbor who worked for the airlines, and a rather well-off uncle, who was a lawyer.
Growing up by the water in Brooklyn, New York, everyone had boats. While still expensive, they for the most part didn’t compare to the costs involved in owning a plane. So, I learned to sail and run a powerboat.
Then, I joined the United States Coast Guard Auxiliary. I knew the Coast Guard (and the Auxiliary) did boating (that wasn’t rocket science), and I also knew the Coast Guard had an air wing, since Coast Guard Air Station Brooklyn was just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I grew up. But it never really clicked that the Auxiliary had an air wing, and that I could participate.
Several months ago, it clicked. So I went about finding out what I needed to do, in order to join Auxiliary Aviation. What I found I could do, as a non-pilot, was become an Air Observer, or with further training, become qualified as Air Crew.
Observers and Air Crew both share the same initial requirements (you need to be an Observer first, before you can become Air Crew). But before I share what you need to accomplish (besides joining the Coast Guard Auxiliary, which requires you to be at least 17 years old, and be a US Citizen), let me describe what these jobs entail.
The air observer is a key member of the flight crew. This position was implemented to aid the Pilot in observing all activity and traffic both air and waterborne. In addition, the Observer keeps track of all locations at all times. The Observer acts as the scribe for the mission, logging all times relating to the mission (such as radio checks, position reports, and observations of record or importance).
A major function of the Observer is to maintain communications with Coast Guard and/or Auxiliary radio networks. Thus, communications and observations are the key duties of this person.
This position was created several years ago to provide the pilot with a capable assistant during periods of heavy workload. The Air Crew is a trained individual, capable of weather gathering and recording, radio communications, navigation in both visual and instrument metrological conditions, and visual and instrument approaches to airports.
Essentially, the Air Crew member would perform under the guidance of the pilot much of what a co-pilot would do, with a major difference being that the Air Crew member is NOT a pilot (this doesn’t mean the person who is acting in the Air Crew position is not a pilot, but they are not certified to function as a Coast Guard Auxiliary pilot).