Civil Air Patrol was conceived in the late 1930s by legendary New Jersey aviation advocate Gill Robb Wilson, who foresaw general aviation’s potential to supplement America’s military operations. With the help of New York mayor Fiorello La Guardia, Civil Air Patrol was established on December 1, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The CAP insignia, a red three-bladed propeller in the Civil Defense white-triangle-in-blue circle, began appearing on private aircraft everywhere. CAP’s initial focus was reconnaissance flying, but the civilian group’s mission expanded when German submarines began to prey on American ships off the coast of the United States. In response, CAP planes began carrying bombs and depth charges. A CAP crew from Rehoboth Beach, Delaware was the first to interrupt a sub attack, saving a tanker off Cape May, New Jersey.
By the end of the war in 1945, CAP’s coastal patrol had flown 24 million miles. CAP found 173 submarines, attacked 57, hit 10, and sank two. A German commander later confirmed that coastal U-boat operations were withdrawn from the United States “because of those damned little red and yellow airplanes.” Coastal patrol missions were dangerous work; during those years 64 CAP members lost their lives in the line of duty.
On July 1, 1946, President Harry Truman established CAP as a federally chartered benevolent civilian organization. On May 26, 1948, Congress passed Public Law 557, which designated CAP as the auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force and charged CAP with three primary missions: aerospace education, cadet programs, and emergency services. In October 2000, Congress passed Public Law 106-398 which provided that “The Civil Air Patrol is a volunteer civilian auxiliary of the Air Force when the services of the Civil Air Patrol are used by any department or agency in any branch of the federal government.”
CAP has been called upon many times over the years to perform missions of major importance to the nation. At the request of the Air Force and the Governor of New York, a CAP aircraft and crew were among the first to fly over and document the destruction following the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2001.
portions taken from the “History and Organization” module of the CAP Foundations course