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
of Contents]People old and young enjoy waxing nostalgic about and learning some of the history of early electronics.
Popular Electronics was published from October 1954 through April 1985. All copyrights (if any) are hereby acknowledged.
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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."
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 in daylight.
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
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.
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.
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.
Seven frequencies 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
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 individual stations.
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.
Many 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 program.
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.
Many 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 radio stations.