Out of only 30 new planes that were given to Civil Air Patrol chapters around the United States, the relatively small Payson Airport received one because it has the only CAP-owned hangar in Arizona with a classroom.
Compared to the 1978 Cessna the Civil Air Patrol had been operating, the new 2005 Cessna 182T has computerized navigational equipment and can climb thousands of feet higher and fly faster than the old plane.
Eventually the 1978 Cessna 182, with its analog gauges, will be reassigned.
CAP's national operations center initially purchased 30 Cessna 182Ts and plans to have one in each state plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.
"We were twenty-first to get a plane because (Arizona) received an ‘excellent' (rating) on our last Air Force compliance rating," said John Varljen, CAP Assistant Standardization/Evaluation Officer.
CAP is a nonprofit organization that serves as the civilian arm of the United States Air Force. The group performs search and rescue missions and provides aeronautical education programs for youth.
"The value of the new plane to us up here, especially with the coming fire season, is that it will be available for supporting the various agencies fighting the fire," Varljen said.
The control panel of the new airplane has two computer screens.
"One display is your flight instruments," Varljen said. "The other display has a big map. It shows you exactly where you are at and where you are going with topographical information."
Weather radar in the new plane is obtained via satellite.
The Satellite Digital Imaging System allows a crew member to take digital photographs, download them to a laptop and e-mail them through the satellite telephone system anywhere in the world.
The camera's images are sharp, with no Plexiglas glare. Unlike the old plane, there is a small window that can be opened for the lens.
The plane is oxygen equipped and can fly at a ceiling of 18,000 feet.
"We can fly high above the forest fire flight restrictions and take pictures of the progress or for damage assessment," Varljen said.
Varljen has flown 100 hours training pilots on the new plane's NAV3 equipment since November 2005. There will probably be eight mission-qualified pilots in Payson trained on the new plane.
Each pilot is required to have five hours of flight and eight hours of ground training on the new plane.
The hours required will probably grow because of the type of terrain and missions flown in the Rim Country.
"I love teaching," Varljen said. "I have been doing it for about 30 years." He shares his teaching duties with Art Rogers, CAP operations officer for the Payson squadron and a commercial airline pilot.
When CAP pilots aren't watching for wildfires or introducing aviation to young people, there are special operations missions. CAP pilots fly as simulated targets for Air Force F-16s.
"They have us go down to the border and act as intruders -- either smugglers or terrorists," Varljen said. Then the 162nd Fighter Wing out of Tucson International has to find the CAP plane, fly up to the side of the plane and identify it by the numbers and escort them to an airfield.
During the last training mission, CAP left from Nogales and the F-16s caught up to them about 20 miles north of Tucson. They landed in Chandler.
"If it was a real case scenario, there would have been Homeland Security or U.S. Customs or the Border Patrol or Drug Enforcement Agency personnel on the ground," Varljen said.