On Bay Watch
Oct 26, 2012 05:28PM
● By Anonymous
Stop by Lee Airport in Edgewater on any given Saturday and you are likely to see two or three pilots preparing a small red, white, and blue airplane for takeoff. Unlike the biplanes charging down the runway or the recreational pilots heading out for a scenic view of the Chesapeake Bay, these pilots are on official business. They are members of the Annapolis Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), an auxiliary branch of the United States Air Force.
As the Civil Air Patrol pilots head out on “Bay patrol,” or any of a number of other missions, they are continuing a long tradition of service that dates back to the early days of World War II. Formed only days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Civil Air Patrol played an important role in the fight against German U-boats which prowled the Eastern Seaboard. Serving first as patrol planes and later carrying bombs and anti-sub depth charges, civilian pilots flew as far as 50 miles out over the ocean in planes designed for land use and often at their own expense.
These slower, low flying aircraft provided an advantage over regular military fighters as it was easier for them to spot the wake of a U-boat periscope or debris from a sunken ship on the ocean surface. Civil Air Patrol pilots are credited with the sinking of at least one German U-boat during WWII, along with a number of rescues at sea.
According to Robert E. Neprud’s book on the subject, The Flying Minute Men, after WWII one of Hitler’s high-ranking naval officers even went so far as to blame “…those damned little red and yellow planes” for the withdrawal of German U-boats from U.S. coastal waters.
Formed during the winter of 1942, the Annapolis Squadron is one of the oldest squadrons in the Civil Air Patrol and is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. Although they no longer bounce down grass runways with 100 pound bombs strapped to the bottom of their planes, they still provide an important service. CAP missions range from Bay patrol and training flights to land and air search and rescue operations.
“We fly from 20–30 hours per month,” says Captain Tom Casey, Commander of the Annapolis Squadron. “Emergency service is one of the three missions of the Civil Air Patrol and we [CAP] conduct 85 percent of the federally sponsored inland search and rescue missions.”
Air search and rescue is conducted by adult members of the Civil Air Patrol, but much of the ground support comes from a second mission of the Civil Air Patrol, the cadet programs. Cadets receive training in advanced search and rescue techniques and play an important ground role in emergency situations.
According to Lieutenant Colonel Bill Parris, Vice Commander, Civil Air Patrol Maryland Wing, “Our cadets get to do something that no other youth program offers in the United States and that’s to ask them to go into the woods at night searching for missing people or aircraft or often in more dangerous situations.” Parris says they ensure a certain level of safety by having a degree of discipline. “I often reflect that no military ever won a war by marching but they darn sure win wars by having a disciplined spirit and that is what we try to impart upon our cadets. We feel our cadets are qualified to take on life’s challenges.”
Along with learning advanced search and rescue techniques, cadets are offered the opportunity to participate in orientation flights in both powered and glider aircraft and can eventually receive their pilot license through the program. The CAP Cadet Program also gives the students a chance to explore careers in the military. Annapolis Squadron Cadet Commander 1st Lt. David Cattano recently graduated from Broadneck High School and says that his experience in the Civil Air Patrol gave him a head start as he prepares to study Aerospace Engineering and Ocean Engineering at Virginia Tech. “I’m interested in the military and this was a good way to experience military life,” he says, adding that he is planning on joining ROTC at Virginia Tech. Nadine Moyer, a home school student, 11th grade, agrees, “I want to join the Air Force and Civil Air Patrol has given me a good head start.”
Many of the senior members say they find their service with the cadets the most rewarding aspect of CAP. One such member of the Annapolis Squadron is Col. Mary S. Feik, the namesake of the Mary Feik Achievement, a national CAP cadet award. Fiek was the first female hired at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio and spent a long career in flight training and aircraft maintenance training. She wrote the original flight training manuals for the Army Air Corps and holds a long list of aviation honors including induction in the Woman in Aviation Pioneer Hall of Fame and the first woman to be awarded the Charles Taylor Master Mechanic Award by the FAA.
Of all the awards she has received she says she is most proud of the CAP achievement award. “I have this achievement award named after me and there is nothing better in this world,” she says. “I have a ball working with my youngsters in the Civil Air Patrol.”
The Annapolis Squadron is proud to have Col. Feik among their ranks referring to her as living history and she enjoys sharing her many stories (or “hanger flying” as she calls it) with fellow squadron members and cadets. She started her career in 1942 at the age of 18 but started working on engines in her father’s auto repair shop at a very young age.
“My father had his own business repairing automobiles and he had a lot of work to do but he couldn’t afford to hire anybody,” she says. “So as a little kid I took care of his tools. I did all of his welding when I was 11 years old and when I was 13, I overhauled my first big V8 automobile engine.”
After being told by an engineering school register that the school didn’t teach women, she took her first job teaching aircraft maintenance at Seymour Johnson Field in Goldsboro, North Carolina but the base wasn’t even open yet. “I had nothing with which to teach and I didn’t even have any students. So being a teenager, I wrote a letter in pencil to Wright Field and I say, ‘This is where I am, this is what I’m trying to do. There has to be a better way.’ Two days later I got a telegram and they brought me out there.”
A commander at Wright Patterson took her under his wing and recruited five military pilots to teacher her to fly on their own time. Within two and a half weeks, she went from flying a primary trainer to a P-51 Mustang. “I not only taught flying but I had to establish the flight training program and write the training manuals for all the aircraft purchased by the Army Air Corps,” Feik says.
Since that time she has logged more than 6,000 hours as a pilot in fighter, attack, bomber, cargo and training aircraft and at 88 years old, owns her own plane and is still flying. “I was a very lucky young gal and had all the opportunities,” she says. Feik says that in the the Civil Air Patrol she only does cadet programs and aerospace education. “I don’t even wear a CAP uniform because I work with the teenagers and I have more fun. I have never ever been asked a stupid question yet.”
Feik’s commitment to the young members of the Civil Air Patrol and the core values of integrity, volunteer service, and respect is evident throughout the membership of the Annapolis Squadron.
At a recent ceremony celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Annapolis Squadron, Parris spoke to this commitment when he said, “We have no idea what the future may bring. There are tasks being contemplated for Civil Air Patrol that I know we can meet. Whatever the challenges for the future, it is our belief that Maryland Wing, this squadron, and its volunteers can meet those challenges.”
To learn more about the Annapolis Composite Squadron of the Civil Air Patrol visit Capannapolis.org.