What is the Civil Air Patrol?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 12 September 2019
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The Civil Air Patrol (CAP) is a civilian auxiliary of the United States Air Force (USAF). Although the organization is associated with the Air Force, it has a peaceful mission, and its members perform valuable aeronautics related civic service all over the United States. The work done by the group allows the United States military and law enforcement to focus on other tasks, especially during wartime.

The organization was founded in 1941 as a way for pilots and aeronautics enthusiasts to contribute to the war effort. It was initially headed by Major General John F. Curry. Civil Air Patrol planes patrolled the US, delivered supplies, and performed other tasks related to the war. While the group rarely engaged directly with the enemy, some planes were outfitted with weapons, and the Civil Air Patrol managed to successfully sink two submarines during World War II. In 1946, it was made a permanent peacetime institution in the United States.


There are three missions in the Civil Air Patrol's charter. The first is the provision of support to emergency services. This includes search and rescue, wildfire patrol, flying blood and medical supplies to disaster sites, and assisting law enforcement with counter-drug and anti-terrorism operations. The second is aeronautics education, which is offered to people all over the United States. Third, the organization also offers cadet training and leadership development. Cadets can be as young as 12 when they begin working with the group, and some are offered positions in the USAF, should they so desire.

Although the Civil Air Patrol is a civilian organization, it is structured much like the Air Force. Members have unique rankings, and they wear modified Air Force uniforms. The organization also embraces the military honor code. While the organization works with the Air Force, neither organization has any authority over the other.

As an auxiliary organization, the Civil Air Patrol operates under a Congressional charter. In 2000, Congress reorganized the organization, slightly changing the way in which it receives funding and establishing a board of governors to oversee it. The group receives funding through the US government and the USAF, and employs approximately 100 full time civilian staff at the headquarters on Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama.


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