December 7th is emblazoned in our memories forever for a very solumn reason, but today and the week prior also carries another significance. In light of the fact that today is also National Civil Aviation Day, something happened mere days before the bombs were dropped on Pearl Harbor that would change the face of both military and civil aviation forever... The Civil Air Patrol came into being.

It was essentially a group of civilians that used their personal airplanes in support of the war effort by flying border patrols, locating (and in some cases dropping bombs on and sinking) German U-boats and of course ferrying people, equipment and correspondence to where it was needed quickly. Many CAP members also lost their lives in this service to their country during the War.

Following WW2, the Army Air Corps was reorganized into what we now know as the USAF and the Civil Air Patrol (or CAP as those of us inside refer to it) became it's non-combatant auxiliary which it still is today among other things. So, what does this volunteer force accomplish for it's country now in it's 75th year?

photo: Keith James
photo: Keith James


Probably our most well-known charter is if an airplane goes down or someone goes missing, we fire up our aircraft and go looking for them and in the event that they're found we direct ground crews to the crash site. Also, as most people carry cellphones with them these days, we've taken to using phone forensics to find them if they get lost or incapacitated.


We still run all manner of missions for the Air Force that are less costly if we do them than if the Air Force used their duty pilots and warplanes. Two examples of these are providing escort duty for the MQ9 Reaper drones out of Syracuse on a daily basis as their pilots train for real combat. Another really fun mission is to pretend to be an airplane straying into restricted airspace where F16s and other attack craft can practice intercepting us. We also mimic other warplanes and fly mock air cover for ground troops as they train on how to talk an aircraft on target.


The Civil Air Patrol provides a very valuable humanitarian service to groups like FEMA by overflying disaster zones all over the country and photo-documenting them so that ground crews can assess the damage and choose appropriate courses of action. We were on-scene at 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina and anytime a hurricane makes landfall or another natural disaster takes place, we are usually deployed in some manner.


In the interest of the safety of those involved, we can't speak on this one too much but suffice it to say that CAP assists law enforcement agencies every year to help remove drugs as much as possible from our society.


Very similar to Scouts or Air Force J-ROTC but with a focus on aviation and space, The Civil Air Patrol has a very large cadet program where Jr High to High School aged young people are trained in leadership skills, science and technology, indoctrinated on military decorum and get to ride in and fly CAP aircraft in prepartion for a possible career in aviation.

You might see CAP cadets marching in parades, doing color gaurd at ceremonies or laying wreaths on Veterans Day. They also get the privilege of actually assisting in ground team ops and even get to go on real-world search and rescue missions should the need arise.

photo: Keith James
photo: Keith James

There is another mission that the Civil Air Patrol accomplishes that isn't as official but just as important. Now that my son and I are both members of this organization, he as a cadet and me as a pilot, the two of us get to bond over common ground on a weekly basis at meetings and other events, which is priceless!

Unlike other activities where kids are just dropped off and parents run errands, many parents do stick around and even become members themselves (there is much to do on the ground also) which further cements the family vibe that is undoubtedly the atmosphere in every CAP squadron nationwide. If you'd like to get involved here in CNY, there are squadrons in Rome, Syracuse, Oswego and Watertown.


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