Affirmative Attitude: The Best in Citizen Service

Written by Dan Pimentel
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Civil Air Patrol volunteers—in their spare time, and often at their own expense—skillfully protect the public at large.

May 2015-

Spend a day at any local General Aviation airfield and you'll find someone who is happily volunteering their time to make our GA world a better place. In fact, you can't throw a rock at most municipal airports without hitting an aviator who is giving back in some way. It's this culture of volunteerism that makes being a pilot in the GA community so special.

Some tasks don't get much attention—like the group of EAA members repainting the benches at the airport picnic area or campground, or the pilot who introduces his neighbor kid to aviation by taking him for a first flight in his Cessna. Volunteering in GA isn't so much about the size of the task as it is about the dedication of the aviator.
The more than 60,000 volunteer members of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) are some of the best examples of dedicated pilots who use their aviation skills to give back to the public at large. Civil Air Patrol members began serving the United States in 1941 by chasing and sinking German submarines off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico. Today, CAP handles 90 percent of inland search and rescue missions and saves approximately 75 lives annually.

Since August 2014 Civil Air Patrol has been led by Maj. Gen. Joe Vazquez, the organization's National Commander and CEO. Vazquez is a 3,569-hour pilot and CFII for single-engine, multi-engine, commercial and glider. Although he spends about 50 percent of his time traveling around the country to meet with members in all eight CAP regions, Vazquez continues to stay active as a CAP check pilot flying a Garmin G1000-equipped 2014 Cessna 206H.
Piloting the Turbo Stationair gives Vazquez first-hand experience with the same issues that members in the field have to deal with to successfully complete their missions. Vazquez has not forgotten his volunteer roots and continues to have extreme respect for the personal and financial sacrifices that frontline CAP volunteers make in the line of duty.

"I started out as a CAP cadet in 1975," Vazquez said, "and later transitioned to the adult volunteer program in 1978. I maintained an active membership in CAP throughout my college years and later as an engineer with DuPont.
"I developed my aviation skills from 1985 to 1987, during which time I learned to fly, got my private and commercial licenses and became a CFII. I was a local CAP volunteer during all of this time, but that changed with my first leadership assignment in 1989 as a CAP group commander in South Carolina." (A "group" in CAP hierarchy is a collection of several squadrons. —Ed.)

Vazquez's ascent from a cadet to CAP's National Commander and CEO allowed him to touch all levels of the organization, and thus, allowed him to see how CAP functioned from within. "After three years as a squadron commander in Maryland," he explained, "my CAP management career began when I served as the Virginia Wing's Chief Flight Instructor and later [as] Director of Operations.
"In 2007, I moved up to CAP national headquarters as the Operations Director, and in April 2014, CAP's Board of Governors selected me to become the next Commander and CEO of Civil Air Patrol."

Vazquez says emphatically that CAP's volunteers represent the best in citizen service to the United States. "CAP volunteers come from all walks of life, and most have full-time careers. They use their vacation time and many weekends a year to participate, and usually pay for their uniforms and personal equipment," he said.
"Unlike our founding CAP fathers—many of whom flew their own airplanes and performed life-threatening missions without any formal training—our volunteers are now provided with top-notch, year-round professional development training opportunities and with airplanes equipped with the most advanced technologies available for search and rescue."

The requirements of a typical CAP mission strictly dictates what level of performance an airplane must deliver. According to Vazquez, the attributes for CAP airplanes include a high wing design (so front-seat or backseat observers have an unobstructed view of the ground) and all-metal construction (to withstand weather while parked outside on ramps). To save on liability insurance costs, single-engine airplanes with fixed gear are used, and they need to be able to carry 600 pounds for four hours at normal cruise.
The standard CAP mission includes a three-person crew: one observer on each side of the airplane, and a pilot to fly the search path. Each crew member is considered to weigh 200 pounds with their gear. The "ideal arrangement," says Vazquez, is to fly three-hour missions and still have a one-hour reserve.

For these reasons, Vazquez explains, "Cessnas are the preferred airplane for CAP operations. The fleet consists of nearly 550 airplanes, most of which are either Cessna 172s or Cessna 182s."
Anyone who knows a CAP pilot will most likely agree that they are some of the finest GA aviators in our community. The high level of proficiency that these pilots demonstrate every day on their missions only happens through a great deal of work.

"Standardized training is one of the biggest reasons for our success," said Vazquez. "CAP volunteers have included many aviation industry and FAA professionals, who are our volunteers in their spare time. Such professionals have helped CAP design a standardized training program over the years so we can control the quality of the flight instruction CAP members receive from CAP CFIs.
"The standards are higher than those in General Aviation, and CAP pilots expend more hours per month and year training to remain current."

Even though CAP was one of the few volunteer organizations in the country that had a combat mission during a time of war, unfortunately, Vazquez says, "CAP has come to be known as a 'best-kept secret.' The public at large does not know about the existence of CAP and the volunteer members of CAP in their midst."
If the public knew how extensive the CAP network really is, or what CAP's core mission means to their own personal safety, it's likely more youth would seek out CAP's Cadet Program. "CAP has something for almost any volunteer interest," said Vazquez, "from a youth program, to aviation, ground search and rescue, and an extensive HF and VHF radio network.

"The Civil Air Patrol, as the auxiliary of the United States Air Force, is a great asset to the nation—for search and rescue, disaster relief services, youth aerospace education and youth leadership development."
When natural and man-made disasters happen in the United States, CAP members are some of the first to respond on scene, transmitting digital images of the damage around the world within seconds via satellite and providing disaster relief and emergency services. Hurricanes, wildfires, tornadoes, earthquakes, flooding—even events like 9/11—this is where you'll find CAP pilots doing what they do best.

"The whole reason for the existence of CAP since its start in World War II is for the benefit of the United States public," he said, "and saving lives can be no better expression of that purpose."

Dan Pimentel has worked in journalism and graphic design since 1979, and is the president and creative director of Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design ( He's an instrument-rated private pilot and has been writing the Airplanista Aviation Blog ( since 2005. You can find him on Twitter as @Av8rdan. Send questions or comments to .

Civil Air Patrol
United States Air Force Auxiliary

Login to post comments