Nevada Wing
Main Content

CAP 3.0: Civil Air Patrol's Future, and Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

CAP 3.0: Civil Air Patrol's Future, and Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems

Capt. Jeff Rayden, CAP
Reprinted from California Wing CAP Magazine, Bear Facts, Spring 2019

Small drones are rapidly changing the civil and military aviation domain.

"Drones overall will be more impactful then I think people recognize, in positive ways to help society."

- Bill Gates

Drones are spurring a technical revolution within the aerospace community at an explosive rate. Unlike the era of the early aviation pioneers, unmanned aerial systems (UASs) are being developed and deployed at an amazing pace. The hastily shifting UAS environment, plus astonishing economics, are creating the regulations and enforcement programs need to protect airspace and the public while promoting commerce. 

The public generally perceives that most UAS applications have recently been developed, and that they range from military to hobby uses. Most are unaware that the practical development came from a historical figure: Nikola Tesla, the famed Serbian-American inventor, received a civil patent over 120 years ago for a remote-controlled vehicle system -- long before powered aircraft emerged. Tesla's 'teleautomation' (i.e., the first ever radio-controlled device in the form of a miniature boat) was the basis for today's UASs.

'Fast-forward' to less than a decade ago when drones were either considered very expensive or just a variation on model aircraft. With their game-changing ability to enhance reconnaissance, surveillance, and attack functions, the Global Hawk and Predator military unmanned aerial vehicles cost tens of millions of dollars each. On the other hand, most remote-controlled aircraft you might have found on any weekend at the local model airport had a limited range of a few hundred yards at best, let alone the ability allowing an operator to view the vehicle's surrounding environment as if a pilot was sitting in the cockpit.

Today, low cost small unmanned aircraft systems (sUASs) are proliferating, and their impact are wide-spread. From monstrous online sellers to local brick-and-mortar retailers, inexpensive and highly capable aircraft are within the financial and operational grasp of almost anyone who has the interest.

Civilian and commercial aerial applications are enjoying new markets, with a potential for economic opportunities and job creation as the burgeoning sUAS industry evolves. Government and military have developed many programs to exploit opportunities and challenges afforded by the advances. sUAS use can include search and rescue, long-duration scientific research, remote sensing, firefighting, aerial photography, package delivery, land and crops surveying, pipeline monitoring, emergency management, and airborne communications. Implications for security, law enforcement, border patrol, and the military are far-reaching. For instance, over the last 50 years the United States has enjoyed an air superiority that has only been contested by a handful of rivals. Yet dozens of foreign states are now building unmanned airborne forces that have the potential to threaten American air superiority in ways that once seemed the realm of science-fiction.

Civil Air Patrol, the United States Air Force Auxiliary, has roots stemming from 1940s-era national security and civil defense. After World War II, CAP morphed into an organization focused on emergency services, leadership programs to transform America's youth, and aerospace education geared to the general public. CAP is now poised to undertake yet another makeover by implementing a nationwide set of initiatives to match the changing aerospace environment. While CAP operates one of the largest fleets of single engine piston aircraft (with about 560 aircraft in service), most are unaware that CAP's sUAS contingents have amassed over 1000 airframes. Additionally, CAP has placed hundreds of sUASs within Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) training programs and educational devices in classrooms and squadrons throughout the country.

The National Emergency Service Academy, CAP's summer training program, offers an extensive two-week resident unmanned aerial training curriculum for cadet that is thought by top instructors. Expanding the curriculum to senior members and to the wing level is under consideration: for example, CAWG is seriously considering adding a sUAS curriculum to its Mission Air School. These programs emphasize training toward providing rigorous training for CAP sUAS missions. Simultaneously, CAP national headquarters is preparing regulations, rules, and procedures for training and for prosecution of missions, along with integration of a coast-to-coast information technology system. 

Member tasking is foreseeable in the near future within all three CAP missions, depending on their ability to prepare for the new roles. Current and potential assignments include:

Aerospace Education

CAP has furnished over 1,050 STEM training kits with flyable drones, including about 500 to schools and local organizations. The CAP Quadcopter STEM kits teach beginners the joy of flying. While cadets and students are learning to navigate the skies, they also will become skilled in teamwork activities, hand-eye coordination, motor skills, and a variety of aeronautical disciplines. Users can even experiment with simple modifications of the quadcopter for drone racing and flying obstacle courses. An adaptation of CAP's materials might be used in teaching UAS foundations of flight, basic aviation, regulations, navigational skills, and safe operations. In addition:

  • Outreach to local Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) chapters would provide additional resources. CAP already has established a national memorandum of understanding with AMA.

  • Commercial enterprises, large and small, are seeking guidance in implementing training for commercial certification, safety programs, and operational procedures similar to those CAP is developing for its fleet and missions. 

  • Local agencies are seeking to learn how to integrate unmanned aerial systems into their programs while standardizing training, safety programs, and effective operational techniques. 

CAP's AE program is well organized, and its leaders are well respected across the nation. Existing CAP and STEM operational training resources are adequate for yet increased public outreach. CAP's aerospace education members present a great asset and might be best suited to rapidly reach a larger public audience and help to prepare to penetrate this rapidly expanding aeronautical field. 

Cadet Programs

CAP youth potentially have the most to gain from USAF-guided training and mission operation support opportunities. Small unmanned aircraft skills may be learned at squadron and wing events, or even at CAP's summer National Emergency Service Academy's Mission Aircrew School, towards sUAS Mission Technician or sUAS pilot ratings. 18-year-old cadet U-MTs and U-MPs are able to play an active role in mission prosecution. Training or CAP mission hours, properly logged, may also accumulate towards future civilian employment or military recognition. Given the demand for (and shortage of) appropriately trained sUAS pilots, cadets who seek spending money or summer jobs might find that CAP instruction in airborne photography, aerial inspection, or orthographic mapping can supply them with respected skills and compensation well beyond minimum wage earning. 

Emergency Services, National Security, and Agency Tasking

Perhaps the most significant can crucial demand for CAP members fall within the scope of the Emergency Services mission. It is here that CAP should be able to quickly respond to emerging needs and expand into such roles as:

Fixed Wing Aircraft Search and Rescue (SAR). Drones have special capabilities that augment our Cessna fleet. They may easily and safely be flown without the same restrictions as aircraft. They may be launched by ground teams at search locations, missions can be flown at night with infrared sensors or below overcast, prosecute searches at much lower elevations, and perform preprogrammed, autonomous, self-guided missions. Ancillary functions currently include instantaneous data picture and video downloads. It is easy to also envision the ability to drop cell phones or rescue supplies to those in need, preform direction-finding electronic searches, and high-bird communications relays 

Air Force Assigned Tasking. CAP performs an important functions for the USAF beyond SAR missions. For instance, support to counter drug and other Homeland Security functions may be enhanced by the ability to deploy more CAP assets and teams to supply reconnaissance support in critical areas. CAP Cessna teams also provides services to train the USAF using both friendly and aggressor simulations. As threats continue to develop with readable obtainable, inexpensive, and highly capable drones, CAP has been recently tasked to begin development of drone teams to serve in capacities similar to the Cessna teams.

Federal, State, and Local Agency Tasking. Besides SAR, security, and training missions, agencies look to CAP for airborne photography, mapping, surveys, and inspection of areas and assets. Small, nimble, UASs can monitor areas with very high resolution imagery, help establish and monitor environmental baselines, assist in facility management of critical infrastructure, and produce digital elevation models and more in conjunction with agencies at incredibly low cost. CAP equipment and volunteer teams already provide cooperative expert assistance to government customers at a very great value. In the cases of sUAS operation, an hour of operational service to another agency might be provided for less than twenty-five dollars. Compared to the thousands of dollars per hour to operate their own or contract helicopters, agency reliance on CAP may help perform many of the same functions with higher efficacy while saving enormous amounts of taxpayer funds. 

Should you wish to train to become a sUAS professional, note that CAP and FAA requirements are in a state of flux as the industry evolves. CAP members should seek guidance within their squadrons, groups, and wing to obtain training from manuals, regulations, books, practical experience, and exercises. Experience (hours) required for CAP sUAS pilot ratings is much less than required for fixed wing pilot certification. However, many find piloting a drone for an hour to be more demanding than flying fixed wing aircraft.

A CAP fixed wing pilot training requires a FAA Private Pilot certificate with at least 100 hours of experience. That might cost one in excess of $15,000. To become a CAP mission pilot requires additional hours of logged flight time, which could double the cost. At this time, however, the FAA sUAS Pilot Certificate requires as little as online training, a short 60-question FAA test., and no practical experience or flight testing. The basic CAP creating requires only 7 hours of logged time and has a flight check-out that can be performed in as little time as it takes to drain a battery -- about 20 minutes. Obtaining the training from a commercial training school, test fees, and acquiring a drone capable for the basic training and experience (15 hours) needed to become a CAP sUAS Mission Pilot, may be obtained for hundreds of dollars versus tens of thousands required for the CAP fixed wing mission pilot qualification. 

CAP missions are operated professionally to military standards and precision. CAP will employ its strict criteria and regulations as well as mission operations technology such as its Web Mission Information Reporting Systems (WHIRS). Flight release procedures to assure safety and coordinated efforts are also in effect. Those desiring to join CAP's sUAS airmen must expect to train and gain experience with the systems similar to those aircrews must master. 

Deploying a drone for CAP is not a one-person job. Members must acquire crew resource management skills to work as a team, just as aircrews do. Two, if not three, rated members must staff the flight crew as the work is complex and tiring. Reducing fatigue and maintaining effectiveness may require two pilots so that the pilot-in-command position can be rotated every thirty minutes. Pilots should consider training and CAP ratings for both the common quadcopter and fixed wing drones. Each has its operational advantages, and skill in both types of equipment may provide enhanced value to CAP's sUAS missions. 

CAP stands today as a leader in community services with a unique synergy deriving from emergency services, national security, youth guidance, and technology training. In the emerging field of unmanned flight, CAP (and its over 60,000 members) might serve as a catalyst, making a positive impact in new ways. 

© 2024 Civil Air Patrol. All rights reserved.