CAP prepares to celebrate 70th anniversary


On Dec. 1, the Civil Air Patrol will observe its 70th anniversary. CAP’s rich history of service began during World War II when volunteers, led by civilian pilots, flew their own planes at their own expense to support the nation’s war efforts, ultimately spotting 143 German submarines, attacking 57, and sinking two.

In 1948, Congress permanently established CAP as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force with three primary missions: Emergency services, cadet programs, and aerospace education.

CAP’s success in performing these missions for America will be lauded throughout the country during the organization’s yearlong anniversary celebration.

Still an all-volunteer, civilian community asset of men and women who donate their time and talents to serve nights, holidays and weekends, often on a moment’s notice, CAP is a highly cost-effective force multiplier for America. The cost per flying hour is $150, a savings of $1,000 or more per hour over using other state, federal or contractor assets. The economic impact of CAP’s volunteer man-hours exceeds $120 million annually.

In performing its missions, CAP relies on 550 general aviation aircraft, the country’s largest single-engine fleet; more than 7,000 aircrew members; and more than 4,000 qualified ground team members. In addition to sophisticated cell phone forensics and radar tracking technology, CAP’s high-tech toolbox also includes full-motion video, infrared cameras, and Garmin G1000 glass-cockpit technology.

CAP members put this technology to good use. They are annually involved in more than 90% of America’s continental inland search and rescue missions, and last year they participated in more than 1,000 search and rescue missions and were credited with saving 113 lives.

Also a resource for disaster relief, CAP members are often first on the scene, providing aerial photography and damage assessment, which helps emergency responders pinpoint critical infrastructure needs in real time. Recent high-visibility missions include responses to tornadoes that ravaged communities across America, Pacific Coast tsunamis, Southwest region wildfires, and Midwest flooding.

CAP’s role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill response in 2010 — our largest single mission since World War II — included a record demand for thousands of aerial photos each day for 118 straight days. The digital photos were used to help assess the spilled oil’s potential effect on the coastline, barrier islands, wetlands, the fishing industry, businesses and tourism. CAP performed this mission for less than 5% of what it would have cost the Coast Guard to do the same mission, and it saved our nation more than $20 million on this one mission alone.

Extensive training and other professional development are offered annually, ensuring CAP’s volunteers are prepared with the skills and knowledge required to perform these missions. In addition, all CAP responders have been trained to meet the National Incident Management System requirements specified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). CAP also provides year-round training to more than 900 members at the National Emergency Services Academy Center for Operations Excellence at Camp Atterbury, Ind.

CAP’s cadet programs and training activities for youth help develop leadership skills in more than 26,000 young adults 12-20 years old. Many of them go on to careers in the military, engineering and aerospace. Teacher support programs help create a passion for using aviation and space themes to encourage students to excel in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects.

CAP’s drug interdiction and drug demand reduction program has helped remove more than $1 billion in illicit drugs and drug money from U.S. communities each year, while instilling a drug-free attitude in our nation’s youth.

CAP’s 61,000 volunteers are supported by 100 national headquarters employees and 52 wing administrators, the organization’s only paid employees. The budget — consisting primarily of an annual allocation from Congress — is approximately $30 million, and all expenditures are annually published in CAP’s financial report, which is posted online at

Perhaps equally as impressive as Civil Air Patrol members’ legacy of service over the past 70 years is the fact that these individuals are all unpaid professionals whose only reward is the satisfaction of knowing they helped their fellow Americans in a time of need. CAP is indeed a wonderful community-based, cost-saving, force multiplier for our nation!

For more information:

John Salvador is assistant executive director at the Civil Air Patrol’s national headquarters.

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