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Civil Air Patrol

The Civil Air Patrol, or CAP, is the auxiliary service of the United States Air Force (USAF). It performs three key missions:

Table of contents
1 History
2 Funding
3 Equipment
4 Missions and Duties
5 Organization
6 Membership
7 Future Changes
8 External Links


The Civil Air Patrol was authorized on December 2, 1941, when former mayor of New York City, Fiorello LaGuardia, and the director of the Office of Civilian Defense, signed an order creating the CAP as the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. CAP began operations to patrol the coasts of the United States shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor five days later. CAP pilots, flying modified civilian aircraft, were credited with saving lives at sea, radioing the position of German submarines to the U.S. Army and Navy, and attacking several submarines, sinking two. In April 1943 the CAP was placed under the jurisdiction of the Army Air Forces.

At the end of the war, the United States Congress enacted CAP's status as a public corporation. The United States Congress passed Public Law 557 on May 26, 1948 which permanently established the Civil Air Patrol as the auxiliary of the United States Air Force.

CAP's relationship with the Air National Guard, as it is with all other components of the US military, comes only through CAP-USAF headquarters. CAP does not have a combatant role, and is not authorized to be used in law enforcement except for scouting and transportation roles. The parent unit of CAP is the Air University of the Air Training and Education Command.


The Civil Air Patrol is actually a non-profit corporation established by public law in 1947. It receives funding from several sources:

One of the grim jokes in the organization is CAP stands for "Come and Pay". There are very few paid positions in Civil Air Patrol. They are located at National Headquarters.


The Civil Air Patrol Corporation owns the Cessna 172 and Cessna 182 aircraft used by most squadrons. Some members use their own airplanes. In addition, CAP owns and distributes several vans for use by CAP's ground teams. Members may use their own vehicles and be reimbursed for fuel, oil, and communications costs during a USAF-authorized mission. Most CAP members are part-time volunteers, though search-and-rescue missions may take days and weeks to accomplish.

One current issue facing the CAP has been the requirement to retire most of the organization's VHF-FM radios, to be replaced by radios certified by the NTIA. Most CAP radios are dual-use amateur radios and are expensive. The National Commander has expressed concerns over the cost of conversion, and is asking the USAF to help fund the changeover.

Missions and Duties

The Civil Air Patrol carries out the search-and-rescue tasks of the USAF in the Continental United States, through the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center in Langley Air Force Base, Virginia.

CAP aircraft and its extensive radio network have been used not only by the USAF, but by other Federal, state, and agencies in a variety of civil emergencies. The state of Maryland, for example, uses CAP aircraft to regularly patrol the waters of Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries for boats in distress and to detect water pollution. Floods of the Mississippi River in 1995 led to the greatest deployment of CAP assets since the Second World War.

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, CAP aircraft were used for homeland defense by several states, such as New York and Maryland. A CAP aircraft was the first to overfly the wreckage of the World Trade Center. CAP aircraft also carried blood supplies to the sites of the disaster.


The Civil Air Patrol is organized in the following manner:


CAP members are not members of the United States military and receive no pay from the U.S. government; however, they may wear a modified version of the USAF uniform and practice military courtesies and customs such as saluting. As part of recognition of CAP's service to the USAF, CAP members are allowed to wear "U.S." as part of their uniform.

Senior Members

Senior members are those who joined CAP for the first time past the age of eighteen. There is no retirement age or physical requirements to join. Many successful CAP members have been physically challenged.

Senior members hold the following ranks, from lowest to highest:

The National Commander is both a CAP member and a USAF officer, who usually holds the rank of colonel.

CAP rank epaulets are gray instead of Air Force blue. On field uniforms, name tags and rank are bright blue with white threading instead of camouflaged.

Rank is normally used as a sign of progression in training and experience. Senior members have commanded squadrons, with lieutenant colonels working under them.

Senior members pay for their own uniforms and equipment.


Cadets have a rank structure similar to the USAF enlisted and officer ranks. A cadet starts as Cadet Airman. As the cadet progresses through aerospace education and physical training, CAP gives the cadet awards such as the Earhart Award and the Spaatz Award. A cadet who has reached the level of the Earhart Award is eligible for promotion to cadet officer.

Cadets take part in all CAP missions, including practice and actual search-and-rescue missions. In addition, cadets take part in summer encampments, honor guards, and drill and ceremonies competitions, and may take part in an international exchange with cadets from Canada, the United Kingdom, Japan, and several other nations.

Cadet members do not incur a military obligation upon leaving CAP, but may enter the Air Force as an Airman First Class (E-3) with sufficient experience. Several former CAP cadets have become astronauts and leading Air Force and Navy pilots, including Shawn Osborne, who was pilot of the United States Navy EP-3 Orion aircraft that collided with a Chinese fighter in April 2000.

Future Changes

The USAF's Air Education and Training Command, through the Air University, has been the parent command of CAP. However, in October 2002, the USAF announced plans to move CAP into a new office for homeland security. In addition, CAP's National Commander was promoted to the rank of major general from brigadier general.

External Links