Civil Air Patrol

Our Historic Background

On July 1, 1946, Public Law 476 established CAP as a patriotic and educational organization and an “instrumentality of the United States,” a unique status similar to that accorded the American Red Cross. After WWII, air search and ground rescue became CAP’s primary operational mission, along with the education and training of “air-minded” and patriotic youth through the CAP cadet program. Cadet orientation flights offered many young people their first airplane ride. Led by educators Dr. Mervin Strickler and Jack Sorenson, a well-planned aviation curriculum was developed for CAP cadets and was soon adopted in high schools and colleges across America.

In 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first artificial satellite, America was astounded and moved into high gear. Early efforts to track satellites involved a system of ground observers scanning the nighttime skies. Satellite passage was so fast – 20 seconds from horizon to overhead to horizon – that ground personnel could only radio their timing of these events as “See – Center – Saw.” How to train for this? How to simulate the passage of a satellite overhead? Air Force jets flew too fast or too high, so CAP planes towed a low-wattage light bulb protected in a low-cost aerodynamic shape: a bathroom plunger- to simulate this satellite passage! In the nighttime sky, the set-up was exactly as bright at 7,000 feet as an orbiting satellite in space. CAP instantly became a national force multiplier in its ability and viability to provide simulation capabilities for training purposes. Learn more about Civil Air Patrol's History.

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