History of Civil Air Patrol
The origins of Civil Air Patrol date to 1936, when Gill Robb Wilson, World War I aviator and New Jersey director of aeronautics, returned from Germany convinced of impending war. Wilson envisioned mobilizing America’s civilian aviators for national defense, an idea shared by others.
In Ohio, Milton Knight, a pilot and businessman, organized and incorporated the Civilian Air Reserve (CAR) in 1938. Other military-styled civilian aviation units emerged nationwide, training for homeland defense.
In 1941, Wilson launched his perfected program: the Civil Air Defense Services (CADS). That summer, tasked by Fiorello H. LaGuardia (New York mayor and director of the federal Office of Civilian Defense and also a World War I aviator), Wilson, publisher Thomas H. Beck and newspaperman Guy P. Gannett proposed Wilson’s CADS program as a model for organizing the nation’s civilian aviation resources.
Their proposal for a Civil Air Patrol was approved by the Commerce, Navy, and War departments in November, and CAP national headquarters opened its doors on Dec. 1, under the direction of national commander Maj. Gen. John F. Curry. Existing CADS, CAR and other flying units soon merged under the CAP banner. Public announcement of CAP and national recruiting commenced on Dec. 8.
World War II and Postwar/1941-1948
In January 1942, German submarines began attacking merchant vessels along the East Coast. With the military unable to respond in force, CAP established coastal patrol flights to deter, report and prevent enemy operations.
From March 1942 through August 1943, armed CAP aircraft at 21 coastal patrol bases extending from Maine to the Mexican border patrolled the waters off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. Their success in thwarting submarine attacks and safeguarding shipping lanes led President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue Executive Order 9339 on April 29, 1943, transferring CAP from the Office of Civilian Defense to the Department of War.
At its establishment, CAP made no provision for the participation of youth. On Oct. 1, 1942, CAP leaders issued a memorandum creating the CAP Cadet Program for boys and girls ages 15 to 18. The cadet program proved to be a powerful force for imparting practical skills and preparing teenagers for the military and other wartime service agencies.
CAP’s male and female volunteers engaged in an array of wartime missions. These included aircraft warning, southern liaison patrol duty along the Mexican border, courier service, missing aircraft searches, disaster relief, tow target and tracking operations, forest patrols and many others.
CAP’s wartime record ensured its postwar future. On July 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 79-476, incorporating the organization. Following the creation of the U.S. Air Force as a separate branch of the armed services, Truman signed Public Law 80-557, establishing CAP as the Air Force’s civilian auxiliary on May 26, 1948.
Post-World War II, CAP focused its efforts on three core missions – Cadet Program, Emergency Services and Aerospace Education. In 1948, CAP began participating in the International Air Cadet Exchange, and in 1949 it introduced its first aerospace education literature for use by CAP units or school teachers.
When the first cadets entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in 1955, 10 percent were former CAP members. As the Cold War crystallized in the 1950s, CAP closely aligned with the Air Force and civil defense organizations. CAP search and rescue missions became routine, and civil defense officials used CAP radio networks to coordinate relief efforts during natural disasters.