The Civil Air Patrol has a 67-year history of search and rescue missions in America.
Under the auspices of the United States Air Force, Squadron 209 formed in Payson in 1976 with the charter being granted on August 23, 1977.
From those modest beginnings with a 1978 Cessna 182 plane, CAP pilots now fly a 2005 Cessna 182T plane in search and rescue, disaster relief and counter drug missions.
It was a local CAP pilot who first located the wreckage of a small plane Jan. 3, 2005.
Second Lieutenant Gary Weber recently completed training to be a "mission observer," one of the three crew members that includes the pilot who flies the plane, and the scanner, who rides in the back seat and observes out of the left side of the plane.
"An observer helps the pilot plan the mission, does radio work and observes out the right side of the airplane," Weber said.
Weber once had a license to fly passengers on charter flights and has been working as a CAP crew member for three years. To date, he has participated in many training exercises and a few missions.
In the summer of 2007, he was the scanner as CAP flew a mission for ADOT down Highway 87 from Payson to Fountain Hills looking for cars and drivers in distress.
CAP flying time is divided into two categories; funded with maintenance costs and fuel being paid for by either the Air Force or CAP corporate, and non-funded costs being paid by the crew.
Funded time is either an actual mission or training mission. The non-funded is CAP members flying to keep proficient and general flying. At no time does anyone get paid for any time spent with CAP, flying or otherwise. It is all strictly volunteer time.
In 2006, CAP pilots flew 247 funded hours and 127 non-funded hours. Fliers usually average about 2.5 hours per sortie/mission. That works out to CAP flying about 100 missions in 2006.
For flying time in 2007, CAP pilots flew 205 funded hours and 68 non-funded hours. That would be about 80 missions in 2007.
In addition to search and rescue missions, the squadron flies special operation missions, such as counterdrug reconnaissance and homeland security, with anther wing near the international border.
For an individual to be certified in the CAP plane as a mission pilot, a pilot is required to have a minimum of 200 hours as the pilot in command. That person must also maintain proficiency on the satellite digital imaging system (SDIS).
The SDIS allows a crew member to take digital photographs, download them to a laptop and e-mail them through the satellite telephone system anywhere in the world.
In 2001, when Squadron Commander Jon Barber earned his pilot's license, he did not have his own plane to fly so CAP was a good choice.
"Even though I now have my own plane, I still fly the CAP plane because if we get into one or two week missions flying two sorties a day, we need all the pilots we can get," Barber said.
The Air Force has spent about a $500,000 on this squadron Arizona Wing Pilot of the Year 2007, Lt. Col. Art Rodgers, said. Rogers is an operations officer whose duties with CAP include flight instruction and examination.
Adult members of CAP volunteer their time to mentor youth who are interested in the military or aviation careers through the cadet program.
The manual cadets receive when they join covers flight, aircraft systems, air environments, rockets, space environments and leadership.
They learn the proper customs and courtesies and drills required by a person who wears the CAP uniform.
Each level of training has its own corresponding closed-book, 25-question test for the cadet to pass and award to earn.
For instance, Caleb Jackson earned the Curry award when he recently became an airman.
General John F. Curry was CAP's founder and first national commander.
"Most cadets get blown out of the water the first time they take the test because they have never taken one like it," Capt. Mike Snively said.
If it takes a cadet several times to pass, so be it.
"I want them to succeed, but they have to want it. The whole idea is to get them to promote so they will be self motivated," Snively said.
Cadets run their own training plans and they have to keep the interest of members from 12 to 18 as an integral part of the leadership experience.
Cadets have the opportunity to go to a two-week boot camp at the National Guard Armory or Emery Riddle Aeronautical University with hundreds of other Arizona cadets.
At the encampment, they fly, march and participate in team building activities.
Back in Payson, one of the highlights of cadet training is flying in CAP's Cessna.
"It is hard to describe flying the CAP plane. You have to experience it for yourself. It is fun. When you go up you get to take control of the wheel, make turns, you get talked through landing and takeoff. It is like taking a flying lesson. We have flown all over Arizona," Cadet Master Sgt. Jesse Snively said.
Each cadet is entitled to five orientation flights with a pilot.
One cadet sits in the front seat next to the pilot, while two cadets sit in the back seat. They rotate through observation and instrument positions and even get to take control of the plane when they are ready.
"The leadership, motivation and integrity CAP provides we believe will set a cadet apart from anyone in any career they choose to go for," Capt. Snively said.
The CAP cadet program is for youth who are interested in taking a stand and being different, in and out of uniform.
Currently there are 16 active cadets in the Rim Country.
Cadets can achieve officer standing and matriculate into the military as an E-3.
Civil Air Patrol, Squadron 209
Founded: in mid 1976
Officers: First Lt. Jon Barber, Commander
Contact: (928) 970-0887 http://www.cap.gov/
Cadets who wish to join should contact: Deputy Commander of Cadets Mike Snively at (928) 468-1039
Mission statement: In 1946, Congress granted a charter to the Civil Air Patrol, charging its members with three missions. First, CAP was to promote aviation. As years passed, that mission expanded to include aerospace education as well. Second, CAP was to provide a training program to support the nation's youth in contributing to society and preparing for successful adult lives. Third, CAP was to continue its emergency services, the work for which it is still best known today. ~ http://www.cap.gov/
Dues: National dues are $60 the first year, $50 thereafter. Squadron dues cover hanger rent.
Meeting time, date, place: 6 p.m., the first Thursday of each month, Crosswinds Restaurant, at the airport in Payson.
Cadets meet at Payson High School, just west of the administration building at 6 p.m. on Tuesdays. Cadet dues are $30, which includes textbook and dress blue uniform.
Major projects: Squadron has one plane for search and rescue missions. CAP officers are also tasked with homeland security duties and counterdrug reconnaissance missions.
There are currently 38 adult squadron members known as seniors and 30 cadets. The senior designation is not about age, but refers to rank earned.
The rank of the members start out as SM (senior member) for the first six months and then they go to 2nd Lt.
If they have prior military service they can elect to have their previous rank designated after their initial six months. All ranks are earned in one way or another.