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What is CAP



Since Civil Air Patrol’s formation during the earliest days of World War II, this vigilant organization of citizen Airmen has been committed to service to America. Founded on Dec. 1, 1941, to mobilize the nation's civilian aviation resources for national defense service, CAP has evolved into a premier public service organization that still carries out emergency service missions when needed — in the air and on the ground.

As a Total Force partner and Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, Civil Air Patrol is there to search for and find the lost, provide comfort in times of disaster and work to keep the homeland safe. Its 60,000 members selflessly devote their time, energy and expertise toward the well-being of their communities, while also promoting aviation and related fields through aerospace/STEM education and helping shape future leaders through CAP’s cadet program.

Civil Air Patrol’s missions for America are many, and today’s adults and cadets perform their duties with the same vigilance as its founding members — preserving CAP’s 75-year legacy of service while maintaining its commitment to nearly 1,500 communities nationwide.

Mission Statement

Volunteers Serving America’s Communities, Saving Lives, and Shaping Futures.

Vision Statement

Civil Air Patrol, America's Air Force auxiliary, building the nation's finest force of citizen volunteers serving America.

Core Values

Integrity, Volunteerism, Excellence and Respect.

About Civil Air Patrol

Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is the civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force. It is a volunteer, non-profit, benevolent organization made up of aviation-minded adult and cadet members committed to serving the nation. Civil Air Patrol flies more than 95% of all federal inland search and rescue missions directed by the Air Force Rescue Coordination Center (AFRCC) at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia. The many disaster relief efforts, together with CAP's ongoing search and rescue counter drug missions and homeland security missions, have substantially increased the flight hours and man-hours that more than 64,000 CAP members provides to communities all across this nation. More than 100 lives are saved every year by CAP members performing search and rescue missions.


Civil Air Patrol was conceived in the late 1930s by legendary New Jersey aviation advocate Gill Robb Wilson, who foresaw aviation's role in war and general aviation's potential to supplement America's unprepared military.

Wilson, then aviation editor of The New York Herald Tribune and later NJ Aeronautics Commissioner, first sold the idea to New Jersey 's governor,who created a statewide organization.Wilson then convinced New York mayor (and National Civil Defense Chief) Fiorello La Guardia of the need for a civilian air defense organization.

The new Civil Air Patrol was born on December 1, 1941, just days before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. CAP initially planned only on liaison flying and interdiction of i

During World War II, as a way to use America's civilian aviation resources to aid the war effort instead Members flew more than 24 million miles on coastal patrol. They summoned help for 91 ships in distress and 363 survivors of submarine attacks. Patrol crews spotted 173 enemy submarines, dropped bombs or depth charges on 57 of them and received credit for sinking or seriously damaging at least two. Others were destroyed by planes and ships summoned by Civil Air Patrol radios.nfiltrators on the East Coast and the southern border, but CAP 's mission grew when German submarines began to prey on American ships. CAP pilots provided their own airplanes and equipment, and often couldn't cover expenses on their $8 per flying-day government pay, which often arrived two months late. Civic organizations across the nation chipped in with "Sink-a-Sub Clubs," staging fundraisers for Coastal Patrol.

Civil Air Patrol crews flew many other wartime missions, including a courier service for airlift of personnel and light cargo; target towing and tracking flights for training anti-aircraft gunners; power line and pipeline surveillance; forest fire patrol; and patrol along the southern U.S. border. Sixty-four members died while performing wartime operations.

The organization became a permanent peacetime institution on July 1, 1946. On that date, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 476 of the 79th Congress, incorporating Civil Air Patrol in its present form.

Civil Air Patrol became a permanent civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force in May 1948 with the enactment of Public Law 557 of the 80th Congress.

On July 1, 1946, President Truman established CAP as a federally chartered benevolent civilian corporation, and Congress passed Public Law 557 on May 26, 1948, which made CAP the auxiliary of the new US Air Force.


As the official auxiliary of the Air Force, CAP has three principal missions emergency services including communications, aerospace education and training, and a cadet training and motivation program.

Since air search and rescue had been one of CAP's primary missions during the war, it was obvious there was no other organization with the equipment and training to continue this vital job in the post-war years. 

Even though there were plenty of military aircraft available, they cost far too much to operate and flew too fast for accurate spotting of downed planes and personnel. Military pilots were expensive to train as well, and mission requirements limited their availability for search and rescue work. Civil Air Patrol, with its proven record of volunteer service using light aircraft, was put to work.

During the 1990 's Civil Air Patrol experienced an ever-increasing number of missions. Some of the notable natural disasters which CAP responded to include the San Francisco earthquake of 1991 and the Midwest floods and major hurricanes in the southeast during the mid-nineties.

With the attacks of September 11, 2001 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, the decision was made in 2002 for the Air Force to move CAP from its operations directorate to the homeland security directorate under Brig. Gen. David E. Clary, to give the patrol additional duties in homeland security operations and exercises. CAP now also performs counterdrug reconnaissance missions at the request of law enforcement agencies and can do radiological monitoring and damage assessment. CAP recently purchased a GA8 Airvan, from Gippsland Aeronautics in Australia and plans to purchase five more Airvans specifically to support its homeland security missions.

  • Emergency Services

    Civil Air Patrol [CAP], as the Air Force Auxiliary, provide tremendous benefit to the Air Force when performing missions in emergency services and homeland security operations, aerospace education and the cadet programs. CAP emergency services is a reflection of  Americans helping their fellow citizens in time of need.

    CAP's disaster relief missions, such as those during hurricanes and floods, often don't make headlines, but CAP provides both air and ground transportation and an extensive communications network. CAP provides an aerial photo platform for many disaster relief responder agencies. Many CAP aircraft are equipped with slow scan video technology that enables them to transmit damage assessment photos, flood stage observations and traffic conditions to the agency within seconds of taking the photo.

    The CAP Emergency Communications Network spans the country with a data and voice net built to survive the loss of civil communications. With one of the most sophisticated communications networks in the nation, CAP supports local,state, and federal agencies during disaster relief, search and rescue and many other emergencies. The fleet of over 550 Cap-owned, single-engine aircraft, communicates on CAP's own dedicated frequencies, while new systems coordinate and track search flights via sophisticated datalink.

  • Cadet Program

    The CAP Cadet Program continues to introduce thousands of young people from 6 th Grade to age 21 to aviation, and offers them outstanding summer programs including some that offer an opportunity to solo in a light airplane at low cost. The CAP Cadet Program is designed to motivate and develop well-rounded young people, who in turn will become model citizens and the future leaders of the nation.

  • Aerospace Education

    Civil Air Patrol has an aerospace education program focused not only on members, but on the general public as well. CAP has a congressional tasking to stimulate public interest in aerospace issues. Each year, CAP supports over 100 workshops in colleges and universities across the nation which reach more than 3,000 educators. These workshops highlight basic aerospace knowledge and focus on advances in aerospace technology.


The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian organization but, as the civilian Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, it comes as no surprise that it is organized along military lines. Civil Air Patrol has a national headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama, and eight geographical regions, each with from five to nine wings. There are 51 wings in all, one in each state plus the District of Columbia. Wings are divided in groups, squadrons, and sometimes flights. There are about 1,700 individual units. Half of which are composite squadrons or squadrons that have both senior and cadet members.


The Civil Air Patrol has more than 53,000 members: 34,000 in senior-member programs and 19,000 in cadet programs. They come from varied backgrounds from police chiefs to school teachers and from big cities and small towns. These differences matter little. What does though is that all of these people want to be involved in their community -- they want to help others -- and they share a love of aviation. They wear a uniform similar to that of the Air Force but with special CAP insignia. They also all get paid the same, zero, from the National Commander to the newest cadet.

Time served in CAP does not count toward military service--nor does it obligate members to any active military duty.

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