What is Civil Air Patrol?

Civil Air Patrol Missions

For more than 70 years, the Civil Air Patrol has aggressively performed the missions Congress mandated in 1946: Aerospace Education, Cadet Programs, and Emergency Services.
Aerospace Education

America’s love of manned flight started with the Wright brothers and continues unabated during this century. World War II showcased the important role aviation would play in the future and national leaders recognized the importance of stimulating public interest in aerospace activities.

CAP, as the civilian Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, was most suited to perform this mission. Their efforts focused on two different audiences – internal CAP members and the general public.

The internal programs ensure that all CAP members (seniors and cadets) have an appreciation for and knowledge of aerospace issues. A rigorous educational program is tied to promotions at every level in the CAP organization.

Aerospace educators working out of CAP’s National Headquarters at Maxwell AFB, Ala., provide materials that are current and reflect the highest standards of educational excellence.

The congressional charter also tasked CAP to stimulate public interest in aerospace issues. These external programs are primarily conducted through our nation’s education systems.

Each year, CAP sponsors nearly 200 workshops in colleges and universities across the nation which reach more than 5,000 educators.

These workshops highlight basic aerospace knowledge and focus on advances in aerospace technology. Textbooks, learning tools, and visual aids geared to stimulate interest in aerospace matters also are provided for teachers to use in their classrooms. Started in 1951, these workshops have reached hundreds of thousands of young people.

“CAP…a liaison between the planners of our air strength and our pilots and navigators of tomorrow…We must pass on our air experience — not only in the Air Forces, but in every section of the country.”

General Carl Spaatz
Former Chairman, CAP National Board


Civil Air Patrol Organization



The Civil Air Patrol is a civilian organization but, as the civilian Auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, it comes as no surprise that it is organized along military lines.

CAP is organized into eight geographic regions. These regions are subdivided by the states falling within their boundaries and each state has a CAP wing. Additionally, the District of Columbia and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico have CAP wings.

These 52wings are then subdivided into groups, squadrons, and flights depending on their size. There are more than 1,700 CAP units, half of which are composite squadrons or squadrons that have both senior and cadet members.

The highest governing body of CAP is the National Board, chaired by a member of the CAP Corporation whose title is National Commander. This position is held by a CAP Brigadier General elected by the members. Other members of the Board include the eight region and 52 wing commanders

This governing body also includes an elected National Vice Commander, Chief of Staff, Legal Officer, Finance Officer, and Controller – all civilian volunteers who have no active duty Air Force obligations or privileges.

There is one key position on the National Board that ties the CAP Corporation to the U.S. Air Force – the Senior Air Force Advisor.

The advisor’s position is held by an active-duty Air Force Colonel who, in addition to serving as the Senior Air Force Adviser, is responsible for all active duty and DoD civilian employees who provide liaison oversight and advice to the CAP organization.

In this capacity, the Senior Air Force advisor is also the CAP-USAF Commander.

Sound confusing? It’s really not. When Congress enacted Public Law 557 in 1948, they determined that active-duty Air Force personnel should be assigned to provide advice and assistance to the organization. Hence, Headquarters CAP-USAF was established.


“As the active force draws down, the Air Force will engage in increased burden-sharing with its Guard, Reserve and Auxiliary (CAP) components. It is critical that U.S. Air Force installation and unit commanders provide priority support to CAP–which in turn enhances CAP mission readiness and a payback in increased mission support to the Air Force by its civilian Auxiliary.”

Mr.Bryan Sharratt
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Air Force
(Reserve Affairs)


“Your efforts in the Civil Air Patrol reflect the commitment to voluntary community service that will be essential to solving our nation’s most pressing social problems. By reaching out to those in need, you are setting an outstanding example for your fellow Americans. I commend you for your generosity and concern for others.”

Former President George Bush