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CAP provides rescue resources during emergencies

  • Published
  • By Christine Harrison
  • Air University Public Affairs
When disasters strike, there is a select group of volunteer pilots, search and rescue teams, and trained observers helping those in need. Missing persons, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and downed aircraft are some of the situations which the Civil Air Patrol responds to at a moment's notice.

Established in 1941, CAP is the official auxiliary of the Air Force. Initial missions included sighting and bombing U-boats, German submarines, off American shores during World War II. Today, search and rescue and aerial reconnaissance make up the bulk of CAP missions.

CAP, which receives most of its taskings from the 1st Air Force at Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., is headquartered at Maxwell AFB. Also at Maxwell, the CAP National Operations Center is the organization's communication hub during disaster relief operations. The headquarters' director of operations has real-time full-motion video from CAP aircraft or ground vehicles, instantly uploaded still images of federally designated targets such as dams and bridges, and state-of-the-art communication tools.

"We are currently working four missions in Texas," John Salvador, CAP Headquarters Mission Operations director, said. The missions are in response to the destruction by Hurricane Ike. "[The Federal Emergency Management Agency], 1st Air Force and the state of Texas gave us several targets for aerial damage assessment."

CAP members throughout Texas gathered last month to help fellow citizens recover from the hurricane. Pilots, observers and ground crews from the Texas wing received taskings filtered through headquarters, then went out to photograph coastlines, especially in Galveston. Meanwhile, crews in the Northwest were searching for a missing person and pilots in Virginia were preparing a public relations flight.
The key to CAP's successful missions is its ability to call upon volunteers and its fleet of high-wing, single-engine aircraft.

"It costs CAP about $120 per hour to operate [an aircraft] during a mission," Mr. Salvador said. "There is no way any other organization could maintain that operating cost and it is something we could not do without our volunteers."

Volunteers with CAP receive military training, but 21,810 of its 56,530 members are cadets who receive aerospace education and training from senior members (cadets become senior members at the age of 21).

For more information on the Civil Air Patrol, go to