Association of Texas Professional Educators
Association of Texas Professional Educators

Civil Air Patrol: Where Imagination Takes Flight

Civil Air Patrol: Where Imagination Takes Flight

By David George

For over 80 years, the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) has championed aerospace education across the nation. As the official volunteer auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, CAP offers a variety of opportunities for educators. Originally formed to train pilots and patrol coastlines for enemy submarines, CAP is now focused on serving communities, saving lives, and shaping futures through aerospace education. Membership in this private nonprofit humanitarian organization does not require military service of any kind.

CAP’s education programs provide over 40 free, fun, and engaging products and programs to their members both in squadrons and in classrooms. Serving adults and youth in pre-K through 12th grade, CAP reaches an estimated 300,000 students each year with hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) lessons and materials. CAP also provides comprehensive aerospace education programs for teachers, including workshops, seminars, and online resources. Educators can use CAP’s aerospace education materials in their classrooms to teach students about aviation, space, and other STEM topics.

Master Sgt. William Holloway, an ATPE member, is the non-commissioned officer (NCO) for the CAP Abilene Composite Squadron as well as a high school teacher in Clyde ISD. As a dedicated volunteer, Holloway sometimes devotes 40-plus hours to the program a week, but he is aware that not everyone can commit that sort of time.

“Civil Air Patrol is one of those things that you can give as much as you want or as little as you want,” Holloway says. “There are those who can only attend one meeting a month, so all of our programs are set up to accommodate for that as well.”

Educator Offerings

The Aerospace Education Member (AEM) program is specifically designed for K-12 educators, and it gives teachers access to many great features that come directly from both CAP and the U.S. Air Force. To participate, you don’t have to wear a uniform or learn to march. This program is specifically designed to assist educators in integrating STEM and aerospace science into their curriculum. Membership also includes access to a portal that provides free books and training, as well as STEM kits and videos to share with students.

“Our AEM program is geared toward teachers who are less interested in being a part of Civil Air Patrol and more interested in leveraging the benefits,” Holloway explains. “It’s a one-time $35 fee to join, and you can renew every year for free after that. Membership gives you access to all of our online curriculum, age-appropriate books for the courses you’re teaching, and amazing STEM kits that will really make your students excited to learn.”

Above all, CAP’s aerospace education program aims to foster students’ interest in STEM fields and related careers. The CAP curriculum consists of lessons and activities primarily centering on aerospace science and history.

“Among other things, we teach students about women in aviation, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the history of the Wright brothers,” Holloway says. “One of my personal favorites for young children is the story of ‘Uncle Wiggly Wings.’”

Gail Halvorsen was an American World War II-era pilot who dropped more than 23 tons of candy from his aircraft for German children during the Berlin Airlift of 1948 to 1949. In what came to be known as “Operation Little Vittles,” Halvorsen garnered the nickname “Uncle Wiggly Wings” for wiggling his aircraft’s wings to let the children know that treats were inbound.

“On his departure, there would always be a lot of kids lined up at the end of the runway, and he would release candy bars with handkerchief parachutes out of the aircraft to them,” Holloway says. “We actually use this story to teach about parachutes and have the kids make their own. It is a lot of fun, and the kids love it.”

Another exciting benefit of belonging to the AEM program is the opportunity to take a Teacher Orientation Program (TOP) flight in a CAP airplane.

“By far, our most sought-after program is the TOP flights,” Holloway says. “That is where we take educators up in one of our Cessnas and fly them around.”

Before the flight, members receive a preflight briefing and tour of the ins and outs of the aircraft. Once up in the air, they are even given the opportunity to take the controls and fly the plane. In some cases, the flight can take teachers directly over their school with their students watching from the ground.

“Usually, we can get them over their campus so they can take some photos and get that bragging right,” Holloway says.

Once up in the air, they can communicate with their students via cell phone to ground speakers to share their experience in real time. This is an exciting experience for the students as well and a great way for educators to demonstrate the aviation principles they are teaching.

Lessons in a Box

CAP’s STEM kits are basically lessons in a box, consisting of materials and instructions for conducting hands-on activities and experiments related to aviation, space, and STEM topics. CAP offers several STEM kits that are designed for different age groups and skill levels, and they can be used in a variety of educational settings, including classrooms, after-school programs, and community events.

The robotics kits allow students to build and program robots, gaining hands-on experience in engineering, programming, and problem-solving. These kits typically include robotic components, sensors, and software, along with instructions for building and programming robots to complete specific tasks or challenges. CAP’s robotics kits are suitable for different age groups, from elementary to high school students, and they can be used in robotics clubs, competitions, and classroom activities.

CAP model rocketry kits equip students with everything they need to build and launch their own model rockets. These kits typically include rocket components, a launch pad, and a recovery system, along with instructions for building and launching rockets safely. Model rocketry can provide hands-on experience in physics, aerodynamics, and engineering and can be used as part of CAP’’s aerospace education curriculum or as a standalone STEM activity.

Every STEM kit is designed to be engaging, educational, and hands-on, providing students with opportunities to explore aerospace and STEM topics through practical 
applications. The kits come at no cost to recipients, cover a wide range of student ages, and arrive ready for immediate implementation.

“One of my personal favorites is the flight simulator,” Holloway remarks. “They are really close to being an FAA-certified simulator. They come with all of the software you need, rudders, pedals, throttle, quadrant, and yoke—everything short of purchasing the updated maps.”

Cadets and Community

CAP’s cadet program provides leadership and character development opportunities for youth ages 12 to 21. Educators can get involved in the CAP cadet program by becoming a CAP officer and working directly with cadets as a mentor, instructor, or advisor. The program offers a structured curriculum that includes aerospace education, leadership training, physical fitness, and community service, which can complement the education and development of students.

Madeline Guidry is a high-school senior in Italy, Texas, and a Cadet Lieutenant Colonel in the cadet program. She has been in the program for over six years and will attend Texas A&M University in the fall.

“It’s all about learning to lead and teaching the next generation of leaders to be better than you were,” Guidry says. “Since I live in a small town, I am pretty much involved in everything. And CAP allows me all kinds of ways to contribute to my community and make a positive impact.”

In March, Guidry’s hometown was devastated by the news of three elementary-age children stabbed to death in their home.

“My CAP unit took STEM kits over to the kids at the local elementary, and we launched a model rocket with them. It was all we could do to help distract them from what had happened.”

CAP is also responsible for providing emergency services, including search and rescue operations, disaster relief, and other humanitarian missions.

“My squadron is very community-oriented,” Guidry says. “During a recent snowstorm, we went and trekked through the snow to help make a shelter for victims. One of the churches had heat, so we set up there and provided meals. It is things like this that have motivated me to stick with the program all these years.”

Where Imagination Takes Flight

CAP education programs provide an incredible array of resources to help educators integrate aerospace topics into their existing curriculum. This includes lesson plans, classroom activities, and multimedia resources that cover various aerospace topics, such as aviation, space exploration, weather, and air traffic control.

“Once upon a time as a junior-high math teacher, I went out of my way to tie CAP resources into my curriculum,” Holloway recalls. “I took my class of rowdy sixth graders out to the soccer field armed with foam rockets that were powered by rubber bands. Suddenly, we were launching them vertically in the air and figuring out how high they were going based on the shapes of their shadows, and it was so weird to see them realize that—all of a sudden—we were learning something.”

“Even if you’re not teaching a science class, you can incorporate science into the class because it is all about imagination,” Holloway says. “I absolutely love rockets, so every year for my marketing class, we build and launch rockets as part of the curriculum. I tie the activity into lessons on sales where I have them build a presentation to sell me on why I should buy their rocket. The research and presentation give them valuable practice with communicating the capabilities of a product, public speaking, and photography/videography. So that was a marketing class, and the sky is honestly the limit. It’s just a matter of how inventive you can get with it.”

CAP offers a wide range of opportunities for educators regardless of the subject they teach. Their programs and activities can provide valuable experiences and resources for any classroom. For more information on how you can get involved, visit the CAP website at