The Aerospace Education Program provides aviation related education and educational activities for members, including formal, graded courses about all aspects of aviation including flight physics, dynamics, history, and application. Courses covering the space program, and new technologies and advances in aviation and space exploration, are also available. There are several programs for CAP pilots to improve their flying skills and earn Federal Aviation Administration ratings.
Senior members may study aerospace through the Senior Member Professional Development Program. CAP encourages its senior members to learn about aviation and its history, although this is not mandatory. Those who complete the Aerospace Education Program for Senior Members may earn the Charles E. "Chuck" Yeager Aerospace Education Award.
Through outreach programs, including the External Aerospace Education program, CAP helps school teachers integrate aviation and aerospace into the classroom by providing seminars, course materials and through sponsorship of the National Congress on Aviation and Space Education. Members also provide their communities with resources for better management of airports and other aviation-related facilities, and promote the benefits of such facilities. The organization also works with other groups, such as the Boy Scouts of America, the Girl Scouts of the USA and 4-H to fulfill the education goal set down in the organization's Congressional charter — to "encourage and foster civil aviation in local communities."
The Civil Air Patrol's cadet program is a traditional military-style cadet program, and is one of the three main missions of the Civil Air Patrol. CAP cadets wear modified versions of United States Air Force uniforms, hold rank and grade, and practice military customs and courtesies. They are required to maintain physical fitness standards, and are tested on their knowledge of leadership and aerospace subjects at each promotion opportunity.
The current CAP Cadet Program was designed by John V. "Jack" Sorenson who held the position of Civil Air Patrol's Director of Aerospace Education in the 1960s. This program is composed of four phases (Learning, Leadership, Command, and Executive) each of which is divided into several achievements. Achievements generally correspond to grade promotions, while phases are tied to levels of responsibility. The Cadet Program operates at a local unit (squadron) level with weekly meetings and weekend activities, but also has national and wing-sponsored events, including week-long and multi-week summer activities and camps.
As cadets progress through the program, they are given additional responsibility for scheduling, teaching, guiding and commanding the other cadets in their units. They also assist their senior staff in executing the Cadet Program. It is not unusual for a cadet officer to command an encampment of hundreds of junior Cadets. Cadets are given many opportunities to lead and to follow; they may hold leadership positions at squadron and wing activities, and are often involved in planning these activities. Cadets may complete paperwork, command other cadets, and teach at weekly meetings and at weekend and summer events. The U.S. Congress stated in the Recruiting, Retention, and Reservist Promotion Act of 2000 that CAP and similar programs "provide significant benefits for the Armed Forces, including significant public relations benefits".
The Cadet Program has a mandatory aerospace education program; in order to progress, a cadet must take a number of courses and tests relating to aviation. Cadets also have educational opportunities through museum tours, National Cadet Special Activities, military and civilian orientation rides, and guest speakers.
Civil Air Patrol covers several emergency services areas. The principal categories include search and rescue missions, disaster relief, humanitarian services, and United States Air Force support. Other services, such as homeland security and actions against drug-trafficking operations, are becoming increasingly important.
The Civil Air Patrol is well known for its search activities in conjunction with search and rescue (SAR) operations. CAP is involved with approximately three quarters of all aerial inland SAR missions directed by the United States Air Force Rescue Coordination Center at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Outside of the continental United States, CAP directly supports the Joint Rescue Coordination Centers in Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico. CAP is credited with saving an average of 100 lives per year.
CAP is active in disaster relief operations, especially in areas such as Florida, Mississippi and Louisiana that are frequently struck by hurricanes as well as Oklahoma and Texas which are frequented by large, damaging tornadoes. CAP aircrews and ground personnel provide transportation for cargo and officials, aerial imagery to aid emergency managers in assessing damage, and donations of personnel and equipment to local, state and federal disaster relief organizations during times of need. In 2004, several hurricanes hit the southeast coast of the United States, with Florida being the worst damaged; CAP was instrumental in providing help to affected areas.
The Civil Air Patrol conducts humanitarian service missions, usually in support of the Red Cross. CAP aircrews transport time-sensitive medical materials, including blood and human tissue, when other means of transportation (such as ambulances) are not practical or possible. Following the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City when all general aviation was grounded, one of the first planes to fly over the World Trade Center site was a CAP aircraft taking photographs.
CAP performs several missions that are not combat-related in support of the United States Air Force, including damage assessment, transportation of officials, communications support and low-altitude route surveys. The CAP fleet is used in training exercises to prepare USAF pilots to intercept enemy aircraft over the Continental United States. Civil Air Patrol aircraft are flown into restricted airspace, where United States Air Force pilots may practice high-speed intercepts.
As a humanitarian service organization, CAP assists federal, state and local agencies in preparing for and responding to homeland security needs.
The Red Cross, Salvation Army and other civilian agencies frequently ask Civil Air Patrol aircraft to transport vital supplies including medical technicians, medication, and other vital supplies. They often rely on CAP to provide airlift and communications for disaster relief operations. CAP also assists the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary.