Statistics suggest that a commercial airliner is the safest way to travel on (or above) Planet Earth, and flying overall is safer than driving. Most of us agree, as demonstrated by the spectacular growth of the airline industry. But despite the reassurances, there’s always the nagging questions: “What if an airplane DOES go down?" Who looks for it? And who patiently combs the thousands of square miles of terrain – woods, prairies, lakes, rivers, coastal waters and other figurative haystacks - where a downed airplane may appear to be no more than a tiny, elusive needle?
Who, indeed? Thankfully, there are several answers to this question, including our tireless first responders – the law enforcement, fire fighting and rescue services. However, there’s also an agency of civilian volunteers, established on the first of December 1941, whose primary mission is aerial Search And Rescue (SAR) and whose members have an extraordinary record of service to the country, states and communities where they live. These are the gallant men and women of the Civil Air Patrol. The CAP is a Federally-chartered auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, and it owns the nation’s largest fleet of single piston-engine aircraft. Most of these are search-equipped Cessnas, Gippslands (as shown in the picture) and similar high-winged airplanes. In addition, CAP members frequently press their own aircraft into service when a mission demands it.
The CAP’s story officially began one week before the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor, and it continues uninterrupted to the present. Replete with tales of courageous actions performed by some 40,000 civilian pilots and other aviation buffs during WWII, the record reveals such obscure feats as the sinking of at least two German submarines (Yes, some CAP planes were armed - and very dangerous to the bad guys). The record also shows that CAP pilots earned the first Air Medals awarded during that war; they flew more than 24,000,000 over-water miles on missions, and they spent more than $1,000,000 of their own money before hostilities ended. Not bad for a bunch of civilian volunteers!
Fast - forward to 2015: CAP aircrews’ best-known role is still SAR for downed aircraft and missing persons, using state-of-the-art tools, light airplanes and ground searches when necessary. But there’s more: CAP also shares the skies with our Air Force on Homeland Security training exercises, escorts US Navy ships, flies Fire Patrol and Disaster Relief missions, and helps train aspiring pilots. CAP personnel also teach leadership, discipline, aviation and related skills to teen-age cadets. Finally and not insignificantly, CAP saves money for the taxpayers in very tangible ways (e.g. a CAP aerial operation costs roughly 10% of the hourly rates of government agencies performing in a similar capacity). P.S.: a sizable fraction of the students at the US Air Force Academy got their start in aviation as CAP Cadets.
To reserve seats for yourself and your guests, please mail a check for $24 per person to our Club Treasurer using the Pay-By-Check Form above to arrive by December 4th. Alternatively, you can make credit card reservations by using the “REGISTER ONLINE” button at the top of this page. Please call Erv Davis at 1207.282.8096, or Bill Bisson at 1207.797.6356 for more information.
Bill Bisson ’60, President
MIT Club of Maine