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 communities and the nation.
Civil Air Patrol was established Dec. 1, 1941, as part of the U.S. Office of Civilian Defense. During World War II, its members provided orientation flights to thousands of prospective recruits. Members also 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 U-Boats. Other enemy vessels were destroyed by planes and ships summoned by Civil Air Patrol Mission Radio Operators.
Civil Air Patrol crews flew many other wartime missions, including a courier service for the 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.
As an 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.
The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian organization but, as an 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 five to nine wings. There are 52 wings in all – one in each state, plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Wings are divided in Groups, Squadrons, and sometimes Flights. There are about 1,700 individual units. Half of these units are composite squadrons or squadrons that have both senior and cadet members.
The Civil Air Patrol has currently 56,908 members: 33,541 in senior-member and 23,367 in cadet programs. (as of July 31st, 2015)
Members come from varied backgrounds. There are police chiefs, school teachers, and students, and people from big cities to small towns. These differences matter little. What does matter 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.