The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF). While the CAP is sponsored by the Air Force, it is not an operating reserve component under the Air Force or the federal government. Since CAP is not part of any uniformed service branch and its members are civilians, it is not subject to the laws governed by the Uniform Code of Military Justice. CAP is a non-profit volunteer organization with an aviation-minded membership that includes people from all backgrounds, lifestyles, and occupations. It performs three congressionally assigned key missions: emergency services, which includes search and rescue (by air and ground) and disaster relief operations; aerospace education for youth and the general public; and cadet programs for teenage youth. In addition, CAP has recently been tasked with homeland security and courier service missions. CAP also performs non-auxiliary missions for various governmental and private agencies, such as local law enforcement and the American Red Cross. The program is established as an organization by Title 10 of the United States Code and its purposes defined by Title 36.
Membership in the organization consists of cadets ranging from 12 to 21 years of age, and senior members 18 years of age and up. These two groups each have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of pursuits; the Cadet program contributes to the development of the former group with a structured syllabus and an organization based upon United States Air Force ranks and pay grades, while the older members serve as instructors and supervisors. All members wear uniforms while performing their duties.
Nationwide, CAP is a major operator of single-engine general aviation aircraft, used in the execution of its various missions, including orientation flights for cadets and the provision of significant emergency services capabilities. Because of these extensive flying opportunities, many CAP members become licensed pilots.
The hierarchical and quasi-military organization is headed by the National Headquarters (with authority over the national organization) followed by eight regional commands and 52 wings (each of the 50 states plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico). Each wing supervises the individual groups and squadrons that comprise the basic operational unit of the organization.
The Civil Air Patrol was created on December 1, 1941 by Administrative Order 9, issued by Fiorello H. LaGuardia in his capacity as Director of the Office of Civilian Defense with Major General John F. Curry as the first National Commander. During World War II, CAP was seen as a way to use America's civilian aviation resources to aid the war effort instead of grounding them. The organization assumed many missions including anti-submarine patrol and warfare, border patrols, and courier services. CAP pilots sighted 173 enemy U-boats and sank two.
After the end of World War II CAP became the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and its incorporating charter declared that it would never again be involved in direct combat activities, but would be of a benevolent nature. CAP changed command several times, to Continental Air Command in 1959, Headquarters Command, USAF in 1968, and Education Command, Air University in 1976. Since its incorporation charter, CAP has maintained its relationship with the USAF, and has continued its three congressionally-mandated missions.
Civil Air Patrol is well-known for its search activities in conjunction with search and rescue (SAR) operations. CAP is involved with approximately three quarters of inland SAR missions directed by the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Outside of the continental United States, CAP directly supports the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. CAP is credited with saving an average of 100 lives per year.
CAP is active in disaster relief operations, especially in areas such as Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana that are frequently struck by hurricanes. CAP aircrews and ground personnel provide transportation for cargo and officials, aerial imagery to aid emergency managers in assessing damage, and donations of personnel and equipment to local, state and federal disaster relief organizations during times of need. In 2004, several hurricanes hit the southeast coast of the United States, with Florida being the worst damaged; CAP was instrumental in providing help to affected areas.
Civil Air Patrol conducts humanitarian service missions, usually in support of the Red Cross. CAP aircrews transport time-sensitive medical materials, including blood and human tissue, when other means of transportation (such as ambulances) are not practical or possible. Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City when all general aviation was grounded, one of the first planes to fly over the destroyed World Trade Center was a CAP aircraft taking photographs.
CAP performs several missions that are not combat-related in support of the United States Air Force, including damage assessment, transportation of officials, communications support and low-altitude route surveys.
As a humanitarian service organization, CAP assists federal, state and local agencies in preparing for and responding to homeland security needs. In particular, the CAP fleet is used in training exercises to prepare USAF pilots to intercept enemy aircraft over the Continental United States. Civil Air Patrol aircraft are flown into restricted airspace, where Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon and F-15 Eagle pilots may practice high-speed intercepts.
The Red Cross, Salvation Army and other civilian agencies frequently ask Civil Air Patrol aircraft to transport vital supplies including medical technicians, medication, and other vital supplies. They often rely on CAP to provide airlift and communications for disaster relief operations. CAP also assists the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.
Civil Air Patrol assists the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Drug Enforcement Administration, and United States Forest Service in the War on Drugs. In 2005, CAP flew over 12,000 hours in support of this mission and led these agencies to the confiscation of illegal substances valued at over US$400 million. Civil Air Patrol makes extensive use of the Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance system, mounted on the Gippsland GA8 Airvan. The system is able to evaluate spectral signatures given off by certain objects, allowing the system to identify, for example, a possible marijuana crop.
The Cadet Program has a mandatory aerospace education program; in order to progress, a cadet must take a number of courses and tests relating to aviation. Cadets also have educational opportunities through guest speakers, model building and actual flight.
Senior members may study aerospace through the Senior Member Professional Development Program. CAP encourages its senior members to learn about aviation and its history, although this is not mandatory. Those who complete the Aerospace Education Program for Senior Members may earn the Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager Aerospace Education Award.
Through outreach programs, including the External Aerospace Education program, CAP helps schoolteachers integrate aviation and aerospace into the classroom by providing seminars, course materials and through sponsorship of the National Congress on Aviation and Space Education. Members also provide their communities with resources for better management of airports and other aviation-related facilities, and promote the benefits of such facilities. The organization also works with other groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA and 4-H to fulfill the education goal set down in the organizations congressional charter - to "encourage and foster civil aviation in local communities."
Senior membership is open to all US Citizens, and resident aliens aged 18 and over who are able to pass an FBI background check. There is no upper age limit, nor membership restrictions for physical disabilities, due to the number of different tasks which members may be called on to perform. Cadet membership is open to those aged between 12 and 18 who maintain satisfactory progress in school, as determined by the cadet's unit commander; a cadet may remain in the Cadet Program until he/she is 21.
The Civil Air Patrol motto, to which all members ascribe, is "Semper Vigilans", Latin for "Always Vigilant". All CAP members are also obligated by their service to the organization to abide by its core values: integrity, volunteer service, excellence, and respect.
| Major General|
| Brigadier General|
| Lieutenant Colonel|
| First Lieutenant|
| Second Lieutenant|
| Senior Flight Officer|
| Technical Flight Officer|
| Flight Officer|
| Senior Member|
Senior members are members who are over 21 years old, who joined CAP for the first time past the age of 18, or who are former cadets who transferred to the senior member program. Senior members who have not yet turned 21 years are eligible for Flight Officer ranks, which include Flight Officer, Technical Flight Officer, and Senior Flight Officer. There is no retirement age for CAP members, and there are no physical requirements for joining. The only physical requirements an officer must follow are the grooming and weight standards required of members who wear the Air Force-style uniforms (these do not apply to members who choose to wear those uniform designs unique to Civil Air Patrol).
Ranks up to Lieutenant Colonel reflect progression in training and organizational seniority, rather than command authority. Because of this, it is not uncommon for senior members commanding groups and squadrons to have members of superior grades serving under them. Current, retired and former members of the United States Armed Forces may be promoted directly to the CAP grade equivalent to their military grade, although some choose to follow the same standards as non-prior-service members. Except for a few exceptional cases, senior members are only promoted to the grade of CAP Colonel upon appointment as 'Wing Commander', responsible for the administration of CAP units across an entire state.
Senior members are provided with an optional Senior Member Professional Development program and are encouraged to progress within it. Progression in the training program is required for promotion of those senior members who were not promoted based on a prior military rank, or those with certain professional appointments (such as legal or medical).
The professional development program consists of five levels, each having components of leadership training, corporate familiarization and aerospace education, as well as professional development within chosen "Specialty Tracks". There are many Specialty Tracks and they are designed both to support the organization and to provide opportunities for senior members to take advantage of skills they have from their private lives. Available Specialty Tracks include Logistics, Communications, Cadet Programs, Public Affairs, Legal, Administration, Emergency Services, Finance, and many more.
As Cadets progress through the program, they are given additional responsibility for scheduling, teaching, guiding and commanding the other cadets in their units. They also assist their Senior Staff in executing the Cadet Program. It is not unusual for a cadet officer to command an encampment of hundreds of junior Cadets. Cadets are given many opportunities to lead and to follow; they may hold leadership positions at squadron and wing activities, and are often involved in planning these activities. Cadets may complete paperwork, command other cadets, and teach at weekly meetings and at weekend and summer events. The U.S. Congress stated in the Recruiting, Retention, and Reservist Promotion Act of 2000 that CAP and similar programs "provide significant benefits for the Armed Forces, including significant public relations benefits".
Cadets have a rank structure similar to the United States Air Force enlisted and officer grades, excluding those of General Officers. A Cadet starts as a Cadet Airman Basic, and is promoted as he or she completes each achievement. Unlike the regular Armed Forces, where it is possible to enter as either a commissioned or non-commissioned officer, a cadet must be promoted through every enlisted grade in order to achieve the rank of Cadet Second Lieutenant. To complete an achievement, a cadet must pass a physical fitness test as well as two written tests, one for leadership and one for aerospace education. The only exceptions to this rule are the promotion to Cadet Airman and Cadet Staff Sergeant, which have no aerospace test. For some achievements, an additional test of drill proficiency is required.
The milestones in the Civil Air Patrol Cadet Program are the Major General John F. Curry Award, Wright brothers Award, the General Billy Mitchell Award, the Amelia Earhart Award, the General Ira C. Eaker Award and the General Carl A. Spaatz Award. As of March 16, 2008, 1,693 Spaatz Awards had been earned since the first was awarded to Cadet Douglas Roach in 1964. Cadet Roach went on to an Air Force career and later became a pilot in the US Air Force Thunderbirds aerial demonstration team.
Each milestone award in Civil Air Patrol confers upon a cadet various benefits. Upon earning the Mitchell Award and the grade of Cadet Second Lieutenant, a cadet will automatically be given the rank of Airman First Class (E-3) upon enlistment in the United States Air Force. Along with being awarded the Earhart Award and being promoted to C/Capt a cadet may attend International Air Cadet Exchange.
According to the CAP Knowledgebase website, the percentages for cadets receiving the milestone awards are estimated to be as follows:
Cadets that transfer to the senior member side between the ages of 18 and 21 receive the rank of Flight Officer (if the highest cadet award earned was the Mitchell), Technical Flight Officer (if the highest cadet award earned was the Earhart) or Senior Flight Officer (if the highest cadet award earned was the Spaatz). If the cadet waits until their 21st birthday, at which point they are required to transfer to the senior member program, they are eligible for the rank of Second Lieutenant (if the highest cadet award was the Mitchell), First Lieutenant (if the highest cadet award was the Earhart), or Captain (if the highest cadet award was the Spaatz).
Cadets under the age of 18 are eligible for ten orientation flights in CAP aircraft, including five glider and airplane flights. Cadets over 18 years of age can still participate in military orientation flights, and some CAP wings have flight academies where cadets can learn to fly. The US Air Force and Army also frequently schedule orientation flights for CAP cadets in transport aircraft such as the KC-10 Extender, C-130 Hercules and the C-17 Globemaster III or, in the case of the Army, UH-60 Black Hawk and CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
Civil Air Patrol's core cadet activity is the encampment. Typically a week-long event, cadets are put into an intense, military-structured environment with physically and mentally demanding tasks and required classes and activities. These classes include aerospace education, Air Force organization, cadet programs, and drug demand reduction. Activities include the classroom courses, physical training, and drill & ceremonies. Encampments are usually held at the wing (state) level and, when available are usually at military installations with military support.
The Region Cadet Leadership Schools (RCLS) provide training to increase knowledge, skills, and attitudes as they pertain to leadership and management. To be eligible to attend, cadets must be serving in, or preparing to enter, cadet leadership positions within their squadron. RCLS’s are conducted at region level, or at wing level with region approval. One variation on this theme are Non-Commissioned Officer Schools and Academies, which are Cadet NCO schools designed to teach basic leadership and principles to cadet leaders during their earlier duty positions in the Cadet Program.
One requirement for promotion in the Cadet Program is the ability to recite this oath, verbatim, from memory.
Although CAP retains the title "United States Air Force Auxiliary", under Title 10, USC § 9442, this Auxiliary status is only applicable when CAP members and resources are on an Air Force-assigned mission with an Air Force-assigned mission number. At all other times, such as when aiding civilian authorities, the CAP remains a private, non-profit corporation.
The USAF's Air Education and Training Command (AETC), through the Air University, has been the parent command of CAP. In October 2002, the USAF announced plans to move CAP into a new office for homeland security. While remaining under the command of the AETC, CAP has a memorandum of understanding with the 1st Air Force. This memorandum allows each organization to provide the other with mutual assistance.
There are over ten uniform combinations. The basic ones worn by most members are:
In March 2006, a number of new "corporate" uniforms were introduced for senior members, with white shirts, Air Force blue trousers and Air Force officer epaulettes without the "CAP" titling. Notably, this uniform has a nameplate that only says "Civil Air Patrol" with the member's last name; there is no mention of "United States Air Force Auxiliary." At the 2006 National Executive Committee meeting, a matching double-breasted blue service coat was approved, with metal rank insignia and "CAP" collar insignia to match the metal nameplate and CAP buttons. Only CAP ribbons and devices are permitted; prior-service military ribbons and devices are not be authorized for wear on this uniform (unless authorized to be worn on civilian clothing by the awarding authority). The service and flight caps will continue to be worn with CAP-distinctive variations.
After completing the Technician level of a specialty track and one year as a Second Lieutenant, senior members become eligible for promotion to First Lieutenant and receive the Leadership Award Ribbon. After the completion of Squadron Leadership School and the CAP Senior Officer Course, senior members receive the Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. Award for completion of Level II. After 18 months as a First Lieutenant, senior members become eligible for promotion to Captain.
With additional management training and at least three years as a Captain, senior members may receive the Grover Loening Award for completion of Level III. This achievement makes them eligible for promotion to Major. Senior members who have completed Level IV training earn the Paul E. Garber Award. Four years in the rank of Major and the completion of Level IV makes a senior member eligible for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. Completion of Level V, which requires more management training and teaching experience, earns them the Gill Robb Wilson Award.
In 2003, the Australian designed and built eight-seat Gippsland GA8 Airvan was added to the corporate fleet. 16 of Civil Air Patrol's fleet of 18 Airvans carry the Airborne Real-time Cueing Hyperspectral Enhanced Reconnaissance (ARCHER) system, which can be used to search for aircraft wreckage based on its spectral signature. Other aircraft types include the Cessna 206 and the Maule MT-235. CAP also has a number of gliders, such as the L-23 Super-Blanik, the Schleicher ASK 21 and the Schweizer SGS 2-33, used mainly for cadet orientation flights.
In addition to CAP's own corporate fleet, many member-owned aircraft are made available for official tasking by CAP's volunteers should the need arise. Aircraft on search missions are generally crewed by at least three qualified aircrew members: a Mission Pilot, responsible for the safe flying of the aircraft; a Mission Observer, responsible for navigation, communications and coordination of the mission as well as ground observation; and a Mission Scanner who is responsible for looking for crash sites and damage clues. Additionally, the Mission Scanner may double as an Satellite Digital Imaging System (SDIS) operator. Larger aircraft may have additional scanners aboard, providing greater visual coverage. Because of the additional ARCHER equipment, the crew of a Civil Air Patrol GA8 Airvan may also include an operator of the ARCHER system, depending upon the requirements of the mission and the capabilities of the aircraft.
CAP owns over 950 vehicles (mostly vans for carrying personnel) and assigns them to units for use in the organization's missions. Members who use their own vehicles are reimbursed for fuel, oil and communications costs during a USAF-assigned emergency services mission.
CAP operates a national radio network of HF (SSB) and VHF (FM) radio repeaters. There are over 500 of these repeaters strategically located across the United States. Radio communications are now facilitated under NTIA specifications, to which Civil Air Patrol directorates have applied even more stringent standards. CAP's radio network is designed for use during a national or regional emergency when existing telephone and Internet communications infrastructure is not available. Outside of such emergencies, most of CAP's internal communications are conducted on the Internet. CAP frequencies and specific repeater locations are designated by the Department of Defense as Unclassified - For Official Use Only information, and as such may only be released to those individuals who have a recognized "need-to-know."
Some aircraft in the CAP fleet are equipped with the SDIS. This system allows CAP to send back real-time images of a disaster or crash site to anyone with an e-mail address, allowing the mission coordinators to make more informed decisions. There are approximately 100 federally funded SDIS systems strategically located across the United States, with more than 20 additional systems funded by state and local governments.
The ARCHER imaging system, mounted aboard the GA8 Airvan, uses visible and near-infrared light to examine the surface of the Earth and find suspected crash sites, evaluate areas affected by disasters, or examine foliage from an airborne perspective in order to flag possible marijuana plantations. Both the SDIS and ARCHER systems were used to great success in the response to Hurricane Katrina; ARCHER may be used in coordination with the SDIS system.
A hand-held radio direction finder, the L-Tronics Little L-Per, is used by ground teams to search for downed aircraft. The ground teams carry equipment on their person that they use while in the field. This equipment includes flashlights, signal mirrors, tactical vests, safety vests, and food that will last them at least 24 hours.
Civil Air Patrol is headed by a National Commander, currently Major General Amy S. Courter. The organization is governed by a Board of Governors, established by federal law in 2001 and consisting of 11 members: four Civil Air Patrol members (currently the National Commander, National Vice Commander, and two members-at-large appointed by the CAP National Executive Committee), four Air Force representatives appointed by the Secretary of the Air Force, and three members from the aviation community jointly appointed by the CAP National Commander and the Secretary of the Air Force. The Board of Governors generally meets two or three times annually and primarily provides strategic vision and guidance to the volunteer leadership and corporate staff. The volunteer leadership consists of the National Commander and his staff, comprising a Vice Commander, Chief of Staff, National Legal Officer, National Comptroller, the Chief of the CAP Chaplain Service, and the CAP Inspector General. The National Commander holds the grade of CAP Major General; the National Vice Commander holds the grade of CAP Brigadier General. The rest of the National Commander's staff hold the grade of CAP Colonel.
CAP National Headquarters is located at Maxwell Air Force Base outside Montgomery, Alabama. The headquarters employs a professional staff of over 100 and is led by the CAP Executive Director (analogous to a corporate Chief Operating Officer), who reports to the Board of Governors. The National Headquarters staff provides program management for the organization and membership support for the 1,700+ volunteer field units across the country.
Below the National Headquarters level there are eight geographic Regions and a handful of overseas squadrons at various military installations worldwide. Each region, commanded by a CAP Colonel, encompasses several state-wide organizations or 'Wings'. The eight regions are 'Northeast', 'Middle East', 'Southeast', 'Great Lakes', 'Southwest', 'North Central', 'Rocky Mountain' and 'Pacific'.
The CAP units in each of the fifty states, and Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia, are coordinated by the CAP Wing for that state; each Wing has a commander who is a CAP Colonel and the sole corporate officer for each state. Each wing commander oversees a wing headquarters staff made up of experienced volunteer members. Larger Wings may have an optional subordinate echelon of "Group", at the discretion of the Wing Commander. Each Group encompasses at least five squadrons or flights.
Local units are called squadrons or flights; the latter normally reserved for smaller units. Squadrons are the main functioning body of Civil Air Patrol. Civil Air Patrol squadrons are designated as either cadet, senior, or composite squadrons. A CAP composite squadron consists of both cadets and senior members, who may be involved in any of the three missions of Civil Air Patrol. Composite squadrons have two deputy commanders to assist the squadron commander: a Deputy Commander for Seniors and a Deputy Commander for Cadets. A senior squadron includes only senior members, who participate in the emergency services or aerospace education missions of Civil Air Patrol. A cadet squadron is largely made up of cadets, with a small number of senior members as necessary for supervision of cadets and the proper execution of the cadet program. Overseas squadrons operate independently of this structure, reporting directly to the National Headquarters.
A CAP flight is a semi-independent unit that is used mainly as a stepping-stone for a new unit until they are large enough to be designated a squadron. Due to their transitory nature, there are very few flights within the CAP structure at any one time. A flight will be assigned to a squadron 'parent', and it is the job of the flight and squadron commanders to work together to build the flight into a full and independent squadron.
Civil Air Patrol-United States Air Force (CAP-USAF) is a small active duty unit that operates under the joint jurisdiction of CAP National Headquarters and the USAF Air University. Approximately 350 active duty, reserve, and civilian Air Force personnel (all of whom are CAP members), 22 of whom are stationed at National Headquarters, staff CAP-USAF. These members advise, assist, and oversee Civil Air Patrol's operations and provide liaison between CAP and the USAF. The current commander of CAP-USAF is USAF Colonel Russell D. Hodgkins, Jr..
Today, apart from member dues, Civil Air Patrol receives funding from donations and grants from individuals, foundations and corporations; from grants and payments from state governments for patrolling and other tasks as agreed by Memorandums of Understanding; and from federal funding for reimbursement of fuel, oil and maintenance plus capital expenses for aircraft, vehicles and communications equipment.
There are very few paid positions in Civil Air Patrol. Most are located at National Headquarters, but a few wings have paid administrators or accountants.