ON THE AIR with the Civil Air Patrol
March 1957 Popular Electronics
in the 1970s while taking flying lessons, I used to enjoy watching
the Civil Air Patrol run through its exercises at Lee Airport, in
Edgewater, Maryland. For some reason, I never bothered to look into
joining. I wish I had. A few years later while in Basic Training
for the USAF at Lackland AFB, Texas, there were a couple guys in
my squadron who had been long-time members of the CAP and guess
what? They only had to spend the first two weeks in BT, just long
enough to do all the paperwork processing, take a few of the classroom
sessions, get shots, examinations, a head shave, and to have uniforms
issued. Then, immediately before leaving for technical school, they
got to sew a stripe onto their shirtsleeves as an Airman 1st Class.
High school ROTC guys got to do the same thing. I don't know if
the Air Force still has that policy; you might want to check it
out if you're planning on joining.
March 1957 Popular Electronics
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
published October 1954 - April 1985. All copyrights are hereby acknowledged.
See all articles from
ON THE AIR with The Civil Air Patrol
By Wayne Winters
evening last September a man slipped behind the wheel of his car
in Albuquerque, New Mexico, switched on a radio receiver and transmitter,
and before he could back out of the driveway was halted by the urgent
call: "Thunderbird 39 to any Albuquerque CAP station."
quick reply to the Thunderbird (Arizona CAP station) operator brought
no response, so switching off the car, the Albuquerque Civil Air
Patrol member beat a hasty retreat to his house, fired up a 75-watt
fixed station and, contacting Thunderbird 39, learned that the Arizona
operator was worried about a plane overdue in isolated Monument
Valley in the Navajo Indian reservation, where there are no phones
for a hundred miles.
A check with Civil Aeronautics authorities in Albuquerque brought
the disturbing news that the pilot had left Albuquerque at 4 :02
that afternoon in a light plane, estimating two hours en route
to his Monument Valley destination and carrying four hours of fuel
aboard .... Now it was exactly 8 :00 p.m. The craft must be down
somewhere in the dark desert that would test a flyer's courage even
Cadet operator works both high-frequency and very-high-frequency
portable rigs at a practice mission. At top of page, another
operator is shown handling traffic while numerous CAP personnel
await further orders.
Control headquarters may be set up in any handy location to
direct search and rescue operations. The workshop of a communications
officer was utilized during a flood mission.
CAP member is talking into a lightweight v.h.f. packset
which he designed and built; his car is equipped with a high-frequency
transmitter and receiver.
A typical father and daughter team; Cadet Carrie Hopkins of
Albuquerque operates the radio while Lt. Col. Tom Hopkins makes
a log entry. Anyone over 14 years of age can join the Civil
Air Patrol ranks.
Moments later, this disquieting information
crackled back to Thunderbird 39, and Albuquerque began preparations
for an aerial search at dawn .... Yet an hour later, even as alternate
airfields were being checked, the Monument Valley station came back
on the air with the information that the pilot had landed at an
emergency field and walked over the desert to his destination. Plane
and passengers were safe.
plays a big part in the Civil Air Patrol, the organization which
is charged with a large part of the search and rescue operations
for missing aircraft. Some 10,000 stations, operating on frequencies
"loaned" by the U. S. Air Force, are distributed over the 48 states,
Hawaii, Alaska, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. By far the
greater part of these stations are installed in cars and trucks.
Many "fixed" stations exist at airfields, CAP unit headquarters,
homes, and business offices. Not a few planes, either CAP-owned
or private aircraft belonging to members of the organization, are
also equipped with two-way radios operating on CAP frequencies.
A number of walkie-talkie units are in the hands of ground rescue
teams and prove invaluable in search operations to provide communications
between aircraft flying cover, or to send information from a crash
scene back to a base camp.
The radio equipment used in CAP
activities varies from station-to-station and state-to-state. Some
gear is supplied to the organization by the U. S. Air Force after
it has been declared surplus. Other equipment is purchased by the
various units from their own funds. Still more is the private property
of individual members, not a few of whom are also "ham" operators.
In most cases power limitations are fairly low. A maximum
of 400 watts output is provided for the one station in each state
that is authorized to talk across state borders, while the various
other units are allowed either 150 or 75 watts of power to the antenna.
Most of the mobile units run from 10 to 50 watts, with center-loaded
antennas being most common.
are authorized as follows: Channel One, 2374 kc.; Channel Two, 2394
kc. (Freehold and Fort Monmouth, .N. J., area only); Channel Three,
4325 kc.; Channel Four, 4507.5 kc.; Channel Five, 4585 kc.; Channel
Six, 5500 kc. (one watt only); Channel Seven, 148.14 mc. An eighth
channel, which will be in the v.h.f. band somewhere close to the
amateur two-meter frequency, is planned.
Until the last
three or four years, almost all CAP traffic was carried on the high
frequencies with Channels Four and Five predominating. Now the use
of v.h.f. Channel Seven is encouraged and an increasing number of
stations have added v.h.f. equipment to supplement the h.f. gear.
This frequency is especially valuable where short-range transmissions
and air-to-ground communications are needed.
Civil Air Patrol
transmitters must be crystal-controlled. Their operators must hold
restricted radiotelephone licenses or higher. The operation of the
stations must conform to all of the FCC regulations concerning frequency
tolerances, type of emission, etc. Accurate logs are required of
each station's operation.
All Civil Air Patrol communications
operations are carefully regulated. "Hamming" is discouraged and
an excessive amount of idle chatter is not tolerated. Regular state-wide
nets are scheduled at definite times each day during which traffic
information is passed from headquarters to local units and between
In case of an actual mission or an
emergency, talking between states is permissible without the formality
of using a state "control" station; but once such a mission is definitely
established, a "redcap" is declared and all transmissions are handled
through the control station. During the duration of a "redcap,"
all stations located in nearby states which might cause interference
with the communications either secure or go to different channels.
CAP units, either Cadet or Senior squadrons, conduct courses
in radio communications under supervision of competent licensed
personnel. Membership is open to all persons 14 years of age or
over. There is nothing compulsory about the organization. While
it is an auxiliary of the Air Force, there is no obligation or arrangement
for any Civil Air Patrol member or unit ever to be taken into the
armed forces as a result of his or her participation in the CAP
Although Civil Air Patrol radio communications
is not connected with amateur radio, many hams become CAP members
and many CAP members develop an interest in radio and become hams
.... Neither activity conflicts with the other.
varied adventures reward the CAP volunteer. All too often, search
and rescue missions become necessary - several hundred a year. There
are also practice missions, Cadet encampments at Air Force bases,
state and national meetings. Any man or woman interested in radio
Civil Air Patrol has a definite place to go to learn theory and
actual operating practice on the world's largest network of two-way
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