HISTORIC BACKGROUND - The Civil Air Patrol Aerospace Education Program has been a strong contributor to Aerospace Education since 1946

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.

FAST FORWARD TO 2015 - Civil Air Patrol as the official Auxiliary of the United States Air Force, and, as a humanitarian, nonprofit organization, has garnered the support and commitment of its almost 60,000 volunteer members nationwide, alongside a four-person Aerospace Education team at CAP National Headquarters at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL, and has answered the nation’s “call to action” to prepare our nation’s youth to be patriotically and technologically prepared for the global aerospace demands of the future. Although CAP’s AE Program has been making significant contributions to this effort for 68 years, it has embraced a 21st century leadership role with restructured, revised, and re-energized products and programs more relevant to today’s standards of learning and tomorrow’s workforce needs. AE’s interdisciplinary products and programs engage youth in an applicable, inquiry-based learning framework that supplements core subjects and enhances traditional learning. These academic standards-based products and programs are provided to educators at no cost, a fact that is helping to offset the lack of local, state, and federal funding for educational programs.

CAP’s unpaid professionals, both in community CAP squadrons and in classrooms, youth organizations, and aviation museums, are trained in technology and educational programs that continue to sustain CAP’s reputation as a national resource of choice. High-level technology usage, such as Forward Looking Infrared Radar (FLIR thermal imaging sensors for Search & Rescue missions) and Unmanned Aerial Vehicle training capabilities are conducted by CAP’s adult and cadet members. Using CAP subject matter experts as mentors to youth, new CAP educational products pertaining to Robotics, Flight Simulation, Remotely-Piloted Aircraft, Cyber Security, and Satellite Tracking and Imagery will help inspire youth toward aerospace careers to maintain national security for the future.

In an effort to disseminate current and relevant national AE outreach information to its members and the general public, CAP publishes a quarterly Volunteer magazine, provides online daily Volunteer Now stories from the field, and maintains an AE website with an ever-evolving repository of resources, programs, and products.


As a unique professional development opportunity, educators across the country are provided free Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) Flights in CAP planes to give them new aerospace knowledge, confidence, and excitement that is transferred back to the classroom or youth organization. 

To perpetuate the efforts of educators, educational institutions, museums, and youth-development organizations interested in promoting STEM subjects and careers, CAP offers a special AE membership program that includes benefits of over 40 free K-12 educational products, online aerospace education links, TOP Flights, and opportunities for grants, awards, college credit, and professional development. Over 3,300 educators currently participate, impacting about 330,000 youth annually.

To expose educators to a variety of aerospace/STEM careers to share with their students, CAP partners with the Air Force Association to provide an annual summer STEM Career Exploration trip to sites such as Albuquerque, NM; Dayton, OH; Kennedy Space Center, FL; Seattle, WA; and Edwards & Mojave, CA.

To fund innovative STEM initiatives, CAP’s partner organization, the Air Force Association, has donated almost $400,000 since 1996 for CAP to disseminate quarterly $250 grants to its units and K-12 educator members. Over 390,000 young people have been impacted by projects conducted via this grant program. Grant recipients provide after-action reports that indicate the high-level of appreciation for funds to conduct enrichment programs for cadets and other youth of America.

To ignite interest in aviation, CAP continues to provide both powered and glider orientation airplane flights for CAP cadets, as well as for JROTC and ROTC cadets, as their funds are available. CAP cadets can even work toward earning a pilot license through their earnest participation with CAP.

To reward the over 1,400 CAP units and classrooms for implementing Aerospace/STEM activities with over 68,000 youth and adults annually in the Aerospace Education Excellence (AEX) Award Program, CAP provides AEX award plaques and participant certificates upon completion of the program.

To instill early interest in STEM subjects, CAP developed a formal, free, grade-level specific K-6 Aerospace Connections in Education (ACE) Program which uses the aerospace theme to promote academics, character education, and physical fitness for young people. CAP members and others are encouraged to volunteer to teach ACE lessons, thus, providing positive role models and career mentors for these young students. Since its 2007 prototype program inception, the program has impacted almost 100,000 students with an early interest in aviation and space. Program efficacy data shows a 26% increase in science thinking skills; a 91% teacher retention rate; and a 46% increase in student knowledge of and interest in aerospace. Quick program overview: HERE. Presenting Sponsor: The Air Force Association; Supporting Sponsors: Lightspeed Aviation Foundation and FLIR Systems, Inc.

To fulfill the competitive spirit in youth, CAP has developed competition-related training programs and products for cadets and students to work with their leaders to participate in worthy national competitions:

  • American Model Aeronautics Challenge- CAP’s new Model Aircraft and Remote Control (MARC) and follow-on Unmanned Aerial Vehicle modules will help promote interest in and preparation for CAP’s remotely-piloted aircraft training capabilities & career preparation.
  • AFA’s CyberPatriot Program - a new CAP CyberSecurity module and interactive internet portal has been developed that will allow cadets and high school students to become familiar with, and interested in, AFA’s CyberPatriot program (note: CAP Cadet teams earned the 2011 and 2012 National CyberPatriot All Services Division Championship & 2014 Inaugural Middle School Championship.). All CAP units and high schools are urged to compete, Career exploration and preparation for future national security is the end result of this program.
  • FIRST and BEST Robotics Challenges- CAP’s new Robotics module was developed to provide introductory Robotics activities for further challenge and career development.
  • Team America Rocketry Challenge- CAP’s three-level Rocketry program allows cadets and students to receive a Rocketry badge for completion and prepares them for TARC competition. An Advanced Rocketry module enhances the program.

To allow CAP cadets challenging individual achievement opportunities on nationwide military installations, CAP encampments develop self-discipline and teamwork while broadening an understanding of aerospace.

To enhance interest in training for CAP’s Emergency Services component of Remote Sensing, a new DVD with remote-sensing activities has been developed entitled CAP-TERS (Civil Air Patrol- Teaching Educational Remote Sensing).

To further interest in satellite imagery and usage, the Systems Tool Kit (STK) online scenarios and activities have been developed for all CAP members-- compliments of developer and CAP partner, Analytical Graphics Inc (AGI).

To provide youth information about a variety of aerospace career options and educational pathways, a CAP online Aerospace Careers Module is ever-growing.

To build a more diverse organizational structure and give under-represented and minority youth greater opportunity for aerospace career preparation, CAP has added the Cadets at School Program to its traditional cadet unit format for grades 6-12. Usually implemented as an after-school program, at-risk students are given the opportunity to become involved in CAP’s exciting youth development program using their enthusiasm for aerospace and technology as a motivator.

To provide academic and flight scholarships for deserving CAP cadet and adult members, over $350,000 worth of scholarships are offered annually.

To recognize CAP’s contributions to youth and educator Aerospace/STEM education programs, CAP has received several national awards in the past three years: National Coalition of Aviation and Space Education’s two top national awards: 2011 Crown Circle and Mervin Strickler Aerospace Excellence Awards; 2013 Cyber Security Exchange Innovator Honorable Mention for Innovative Use of Cyber Security Technology Resources during MeriTalk's Cyber Security Confidence Awards; and 2013 Air Force Association Chairman’s Aerospace Education Award.

To ensure CAP’s cadets and America’s middle and high school students have interesting and challenging AE products, the CAP’s six Aerospace Dimension modules and the 675-page, full color comprehensive textbook, The Journey of Flight, have been revised for currency and additional inquirybased STEM activities. There is also an online repository of STEM resources for use by cadets and educators nationwide.

To enable CAP units and educator members the tools needed to conduct STEM programs, CAP provides free STEM Kits in five career development areas: Astronomy, Flight Simulation, Model and Remote Controlled Aircraft, Robotics, and Rocketry in the CAP STEM Kit Program.