Civil Air Patrol: Missions for America for 65 Years
by Drew Steketee, Turner Publishing Co., Paducah, Ky., 2007, $42.95
America’s Civil Air Patrol has long been one of aviation’s best-kept secrets. The only official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, it’s actually been in existence for 65 years.
Drew Steketee’s book is a well-documented history, beginning with the organization’s creation on December 1, 1941, when Fiorello LaGuardia, director of the Office of Civilian Defense, signed the order to mobilize the nation’s civilian air strength. Once a chain of command was established, pilots, mechanics, radio operators, medical and security personnel were recruited. As news of Pearl Harbor spread, general aviation was halted except for official business flights. Within three months of the time when German submarines began sinking large numbers of Allied vessels, 21 coastal bases were established between Maine and Mexico, and patrols began. A CAP pilot first sighted an enemy sub on March 5, 1942. By August 31, 1943, when CAP patrols ended, 173 U-boats had been sighted, with one documented kill after patrol aircraft were permitted to carry depth charges. In all, 26 airmen and 90 aircraft were lost on those missions.
Search and rescue missions flown by CAP volunteers proved the value of slow-flying light aircraft that could spot crash sites at low altitudes. Volunteers could be assigned cargo, courier, target towing, power line and border patrol missions, in addition to guarding airfields and waterways. A program was also initiated to encourage CAP cadets to become licensed pilots.
When WWII ended, CAP was incorporated by Congress, and in October 1948 it became an auxiliary of the Air Force. Since then its members have flown thousands of hours searching for lost aircraft and performing missions of mercy. Today more than 57,000 CAP volunteers fly 530 piston-engine aircraft and 60 gliders in 52 state units, including Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C.
Steketee, founder of the CAP Foundation, includes more than 100 previously unpublished historical photos and illustrations, including rare low-altitude shots of the World Trade Center site on 9/11, showing the destruction in lower Manhattan.
Originally published in the January 2009 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here.