• Civil Air Patrol Part One - USAF Auxiliary

    Civil Air Patrol

    Part One - USAF Auxiliary

    By Tony Vallillo

    Flight simmers who delved into the missions section of FSX may have noticed one mission that featured a red white and blue Maule, called CAP Search and Rescue. The task at hand was to locate, and if you had some real brass ones land and rescue, a downed flier in the mountains. Finding the target was not terribly difficult, but it took me a few tries before I was able to land the Maule on that tiny plateau, pick up the downed airman and take off again. For most of you it was probably just another imaginary mission among the many offerings within FSX, but some of you may have wondered just what CAP is.

    Civil Air Patrol

    CAP stands for Civil Air Patrol, the civilian volunteer auxiliary of the US Air Force. The organization has existed since the early days of WWII, and today has many thousands of volunteers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. We operate over 500 Cessna airplanes; we are, in fact, the largest operator of Cessna aircraft in the world. I say "we" because since 2007 I have been a CAP member myself, and after my retirement from American Airlines in 2008 just about all of my flying was and is done on behalf of my alma mater's auxiliary.

    Civil Air Patrol

    My involvement in CAP actually dates from the early 1980's, when I joined as a senior member during my son's tenure as a cadet. This is actually how most of our adult members get involved, in part because CAP is a much better kept secret than it should be. Like most members, when my son went on to other pursuits I let my membership lapse, but I came upon CAP again in early 2007 when a new squadron was established in the city near which I lived. By this time my airline retirement was on the horizon, and it seemed like CAP would be a good post retirement activity -- I could keep flying with a purpose greater than the mere pursuit of a full stomach, albeit in Cessnas instead of Boeings, and also perhaps contribute to the interest of youth in aviation through the cadet program. The timing was perfect, because one year later I had to pull the trigger on retirement early (rather than lose a not insignificant slice of my pension) and I found myself with a lot of time on my hands -- time that would ordinarily have been spent in the company of She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed. Now we all know that She is intolerant of my normal inclination to idleness when not actually flying, and She had gotten used to me being out of the house completely for days at a time each week. It may come as a surprise to you, but spousal homicide is the principle cause of mortality in retired airline pilots (!), who never fail to attempt to prolong their command by trying to take over the kitchen! So at least in a tongue-in-cheek sense CAP has kept me alive for nearly a decade now!

    Civil Air Patrol

    CAP has a long history, having been around longer than I have been. It came into being around the time of Pearl Harbor, in an effort spearheaded by well known pilot and journalist Gill Robb Wilson, and the Mayor of New York (also a pilot) Fiorello LaGuardia. Wilson, in particular, was interested in finding ways to use civil aviation as part of the war effort, instead of grounding it altogether, which was one of the proposals floating around at the time. Using volunteer pilots flying their own airplanes, CAP undertook many missions during the war years, including courier missions, border patrols, and the best known mission -- anti submarine patrols along the coasts.

    Civil Air Patrol

    Early in the US involvement in WWII, German submarines were a terrible threat to maritime traffic, and it was possible to watch from the shore as ships were attacked and sunk. CAP began flying anti-submarine patrols, sometimes armed with small bombs. Although the stories of CAP airplanes actually sinking submarines with those bombs are apocryphal, a number were sunk by military aircraft summoned by the CAP pilots on patrol.

    Civil Air Patrol

    After the war, when the USAF was established as a separate service, the CAP was made the official auxiliary of the Air Force, and given principal responsibility for the conduct of inland search and rescue flying, especially searches for downed airplanes. This was a lively business in the immediate postwar years, and is still one of our principal missions. Additionally, a cadet program was established which is also still going strong. Young people ages 12-21 can participate, and be involved in all manner of leadership training and aviation and technology oriented activities, including learning to fly.

    1. eldyer's Avatar
      eldyer -
      I was a CAP cadet back in 50's
      Eric Dyer
    1. dswanson's Avatar
      dswanson -

      I've missed your very interesting travelogues on this site - please keep them coming !!!
    1. N646AWAirbus's Avatar
      N646AWAirbus -
      If anyone is looking for more information, please visit our official, National website at;


      From there, you can find out a lot more as to what we do, what we have to offer, and what you can do for us. You can also find links to our various social media outlets at youTube channel as well.

      I'm in no means recruiting here, lol. But if you wish to find out more, that's a good place to start!


      Maj. A. Stout, CAP
      Deputy Commander
      March Field Composite Squadron 45
      March ARB, CA
    1. svpst's Avatar
      svpst -
      My father was killed in Detoit, when I was 2, in 1945. He was taking flying lessons in a small Cessna and got caught in a rainstorm and unfortunately hit high tension wires when landing in the rain. Interestly enough, my mother, who was also taking lessons,and my uncle bought a small landing strip about 200 miles north of Detroit. In about 1948, I'm estimating, a man came and talked to them and they set up a CAP unit at that small strip. There were two flying clubs there and something like 8 pilots soon had signed onto the CAP Rosters. They gave flying training lessons, and at the ages of 7 and 8, I was allowed to sit in on many of the training sessions they did. Unfortunately, my mother remarried and we sold the strip, and today it has fully grown over, but I do remember flying to many CAP meetings all over northern Michigan from that airport at those tender ages. Had lots of free rides from the pilots at the club. They have been around for a long time. I'm now 74.
    1. _CAT_FISH_'s Avatar
      _CAT_FISH_ -
      I joined CAP when i was 13 way back in AUG 90 over 28 years later and I am still in CAP, in fact just re-upped today.. I have over 100 Ground SAR missions, and I have been a part of many National Level Disaster Recovery Efforts, while yes CAP has a flying aspect the hard work of SAR is on the Ground.

      I am not saying I don't have hours in the planes, I have been a right-seat driver (Observer aka Becker-keeper) my funnest role however is with the camera an sensors in the back seat. I get to enjoy the view an get flown around (kinda cool if u think about it) The FSX side of CAP training is done to bring new aircrews into the fold, its cheaper then sending the plane up, the scanner crew slot is not easy to learn, nether is getting the shots off right but what we have learned is this. In FSX a new scanner can learn to talk to the pilot to tell them what they need to the plane to do to get on target, this is also key to crew building. Next is getting them in the air, now your adding the REAL-FEEL of flight, I am not sure how many use the A2A line of planes, but HANDS DOWN-- This makes a BIG difference, crews tell me this and I know this first hand, nothing can beat real world hands on, but the A2A 182T is a very dynamic tool to have! Moreover, the only thing I really have to say is I wish some skilled CAPer would make a working Becker an it would be great to have a skin made that is "True" by this I mean put the becker can on it an give it the working becker unit. I would be in Hog heaven; lol..

      Man this was a really great read about the Civil Air Patrol, amazing work, well spoken an the visuals where spot on!

      Maj. T. REA
      Emergency Services Training Officer / GSAR-Instructor
      Arkansas Wing HQ
    1. goodpaster's Avatar
      goodpaster -
      It was unfortunate that my first interaction with CAP was less than professional. It was the mid-90s when my unit had been reassigned and we took over the MAST (Military Assistance to Safety and Traffic) mission which included SAR support.

      Normally the outgoing unit would provide some sort of gouge, but for some case, this did not happen and we were thrust into the middle of a SAR mission. Some hikers were lost in the mountains. While none of our pilots and crew chiefs were trained in the civil version of SAR we were all qualified in CSAR (Combat Search and Rescue.)

      We attended a meeting where we meet with the State SAR coordinator, a number of the local volunteers, and this guy in a green flightsuit with no rank, but claiming he was a Captain and represented the USAF. The previous unit who performed this mission seemed to make lots of concessions that my unit was not willing.

      Some of the major areas we had an issue with was Command and Control would be though this agency called CAP, our aircraft needed to be modified at unit expense to carry a special civil radio (our Havequick and PL6s were not good enough), and CAP certified observers were to be on each of our aircraft. Needless to say, I told this individual in a flightsuit with no rank, his demands were not going to happen.

      After lunch things changed for the worse. Mr. flightsuit with no rank brought his boss. Now I was looking at someone in BDUs with Lt Col rank, but where it should say USAF it said CAP. To tell the truth, I had no idea who or what CAP was, but I recognized an oak leaf and what it represented, or what I thought it represented.

      The conversation turned to the guy in BDUs with CAP wanting to know who in the hell we thought we were. We were required to support his mission and that was the end of it. Every time I tried to speak, this Lt. Col cut me off. I was being polite because of his rank, but clearly, this was an issue.

      When we took a break one of my pilots pulled me to the side. He then informed me about who CAP was. Seemed his college-aged son joined a squadron earlier that month and since his son was already a pilot they made him an instant 1st Lt. No pre-commissioning course, no college degree, nothing. When they looked into how someone could become a Lt without the usual requirements being met, that is when they discovered that CAP rank is not real military rank. They are a purely civilian organization, they have no federal (or even state) recognition, they have no commission, and they are not subject to UCMJ. Needless to say, we made a call to JAG who confirmed this.

      We returned the next day with our JAG officer in tow and when Mr. Lt. Col again started making his demands our Captain set the score straight. The "Colonel" didn't give up too easily with another," and who in the hell are you." The Captain replied with "I am with the Judge Advocate General..." He then went on to explain exactly who CAP was and the fact they despite their claims they did not represent the Air Force or any branch of the U.S. military.

      CAPs demands were immediately dismissed by the group and over the next three years performing SAR missions they became completely absent.

      This was also a lesson for me. Not everyone who wears U.S. Military rank are what they pretend to be. It's a shame that I had such a negative experience, as I suspect that my experience is in the minority of most military-CAP coordinated responses.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      It is indeed unfortunate that your first exposure to CAP went the way you describe it. I would comment that that sort of interaction was probably more likely to occur in the time frame you mentioned, or earlier. Since I have been in CAP (I started in early 2007) it has been emphasized over and over at both the local squadron level and at the national level that CAP members do not hold military rank, nor are they "in the Air Force".

      That being said, however, the CAP has, since shortly after the USAF was established as a separate service in 1947, been closely associated with the Air Force, as its civilian volunteer auxiliary. This relationship is similar to that of the US Coast Guard and its volunteer Auxiliary, except for the fact that the Coast Guard has developed a somewhat more integrated approach to the "Aux" than CAP has had with the USAF until very recently. Around two years ago the USAF brought the CAP into what has been called for many years the Total Force (Prior to that time the total force consisted of the Active Duty, the Air Force Reserves, and the Air National Guard. The Total Force concept originated several decades ago as the Guard and Reserves were brought directly into the war fighting planning, and you can see it in full effect essentially since Gulf War I, when many Guard and Reserve units were called to active duty to carry out the war plan. They are still heavily involved today). Now the Total Force officially consists of the Active Duty, Reserves, Air Guard and the Civil Air Patrol.

      Even so, the CAP is still a civilian volunteer organization, and our members are not in any military status (unless they are actually active duty or reserve or guard members, as some are, but even then they are strictly non military when performing CAP duties). The Air Force allows CAP to use a slightly modified version of its uniform and insignia, as well as a similar grade structure. This has been a long standing policy, going back at least to the 1950's. Normally, the difference is noticeable, and even on a military base I have never had an officer or an enlisted person salute me -- they are not required to do so since as you indicated CAP grade is not military grade, even though there is a definite resemblance.

      The confusion, if any, probably is most prevalent with regard to the flight suit or BDU's back in the day, because the grade insignia on those uniforms was pretty much the same as the AF grade, the only difference in the uniform being the CAP command patch and, of course, any squadron or wing patch. Today that problem does not exist as much, largely because we still use the green flight suits, which have been more or less cast off by the real military and replaced by that desert tan item that you now see everywhere. The other big giveaway, of course, is our average age!! You won't find anyone who looks to be over 60 in the military, unless they were Admiral Rickover!

      Today, too, the cooperation between the military and the CAP is much more professional than you encountered. We have members who work directly with the various Federal, State and local responders and the coordination is usually done at a higher level these days. For example, during the mission I am describing in part 2 of this series, all of our taskings came from FEMA, which is usually the lead organization in a large scale response like a hurricane. The military resources, which were considerable, also got much of their tasking from FEMA, which is the way that the Incident Command System works today.

      By the way, there are other non-military government agencies that also use military-like grade insignia. And I know of at least one military high school in Canada that actually uses US style officer grade insignia as cadet grade insignia. Of course, their military has totally different insignia than ours, and at any rate there is little chance that anyone would confuse a high school age cadet for, say, a military major!

      And let me not forget to say - Thank you for your service!

      Tony Vallillo
    1. goodpaster's Avatar
      goodpaster -

      After your discussion, I decided to find out some current information. I was able to look up the local Squadron and found that one of the members works for the same company as I do. I ambushed him at lunch and he happily provided some information.

      The local unit is called a composite Squadron. That means they have kids and adults with the kids operating as a sort of JR AFROTC without the High School involvement. Seems they have some of the same programs as an AFROTC with leadership, military discipline, aerospace education, etc. He stated that based on being a retired old colonel and experience with young adults as a former Boy Scout leader, that would probably be where the commander put me.

      I asked about the flying, with experience in SAR, Stands and Eval, CFI, CFII, MEL, and a working professional instructor. My coworker laughed. Seems the secret was out and every CFI for 50 miles knew about getting free flying in a CAP airplane. They had more pilots than they could possibly ever use and if I wanted to fly he doubted they could even get a flight on me this year. Like any flying organization, they have a budget and guys who have been with the unit longest get priority for flight training.

      He did say that some creative guys got permission to use a non-CAP airplane for CAP training. Basically renting a 172 from the FBO and knocking out their form 5 that way. (I guess the form 5 is the CAP version of a form 8.) That was a real put off to me. I left volunteering for the Boy Scouts for that reason. I am a volunteer not an endless source of cash for the organization.

      I was also informed that you generally carry any military rank you have or retired with into CAP. You have to go through some training but then they can promote you has high as Lt Col. Colonels and above are leadership positions and they only go to Maj Gen so they protect their top three ranks. However, as the local squadron commander was only a major he felt it was unlikely that he would recommend Lt. Col. Seems you can't outrank the boss even in CAP.

      I thanked my coworker for the information. I think I will pass as I realized that half the kids in BSA were there because their parents saw it as free babysitting and were not really interested in the program.
    1. LKLACY55304's Avatar
      LKLACY55304 -
      I too, was a CAP cadet back in 50's 1952-1955
      It was the best thing that ever happen to me growing up in Flint Michigan.

      Lloyd K. Lacy
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -
      Wow! I spent three of my growing up years in Swartz Creek, just west of Flint. This was back in 1962-1965, when Flint was still Buick Town. Great place to be a kid.
    1. avallillo's Avatar
      avallillo -

      That unit is different from any that I have encountered if they have that much of a glut of pilots! Must be in or near a major metropollitan area. Where I am, in Maryland Wing, we do not have that problem! But it is not inconceivable that some areas are that pilot or instructor rich.
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