Mountain uses geographic, piloting skills to serve community
Volunteer activities give University of Louisville faculty and staff a different perspective on their community. Keith Mountain, geography and geosciences chair—and a private pilot and member of the Kentucky Volunteer Aviators—gets a more elevated perspective than most.
Keith Mountain took this photo of Clark State Forest near Henryville, Ind., on a volunteer flight for the National Weather Service.
KVA is a group of local pilots and other people who volunteer as a rapid response team to meet local emergency needs and provide a community service, Mountain said. Members do such things as fly search-and-rescue and take aerial photography.
The National Weather Service called the group after the March 2 tornadoes in Indiana and Kentucky to ask members to fly the tornado path and photograph the damage. Mountain used both his expertise in geography and his skills as a pilot for the task.
“Geographers have an advantage in that their primary perspective of the Earth is one of understanding spatial relationships and identifying the patterns and processes that make and shape the Earth’s surface,” Mountain said. “While today we have several options as to how we can do this (Google Earth, for example), there really is no substitute for the perspective from a light aircraft.
“For example, images such as those of the recent tornadoes allow researchers to identify atmospheric conditions, directions, magnitudes and intensities of winds, and storm damage as well as quickly evaluate the environmental and human loss in such an event,” he explained. “In addition, piloting engages a great many standard geographic skills such as weather knowledge, map reading (aeronautical charts are very complex and elegant), navigation and air space, among many other skills, all of which a trained geographer will possess at some level.”
Mountain uses his own Cessna 172, a four-door high-wing airplane, for KVA flights. The high wing is especially useful for aerial photography because it does not obstruct a pilot’s view of the ground from the side window.
On photographic flights, he said he typically flies alone and takes his own photographs.
“I can position the airplane where I want it” that way, Mountain explained.
When he flies search-and-rescue flights, he takes spotters with him.
KVA members donate their personal aircraft, fuel costs and time, Mountain said.
“I consider this, as do all others, to be a fine use of aircraft,” he said.
Flying with KVA, which has a different focus than other well-recognized and established groups such as the Civil Air Patrol, also allows him to train with highly qualified and seasoned pilots, most of whom fly professionally, he said.
That “has increased my skill level in all aspects of the flight environment. Besides, KVA activities are not recognized as an inconvenience or hardship as pilots will use any excuse to be near or fly airplanes,” Mountain said.