Diamondhead Starts Civil Air Patrol

A safety inspector looks over a Cessna before Civil Air Patrol pilots take off for a qualifying flight. Before these volunteers can participate in missions, they spend time in the classroom and in the air learning Air Force regulations.

The Civil Air Patrol was started during World War II to patrol U.S. coasts in search of enemies. The mission has since expanded. Pilots now search for downed planes and provide other emergency services.

"I believe in the next few years, under the homeland defense situation, that our missions will expand," said John Wilkes, the vice commander of the Mississippi Civil Air Patrol.

Having the Civil Air Patrol perform these missions is also more cost efficient for the Air Force.

"It's far less expensive to fly one of these Cessnas out here at perhaps 70 dollars an hour than it would cost the Air Force will over a thousand dollars to fly a normal Air Force aircraft and perform the same mission," Lt. Col. George Comstock said.

Since September 11th, there's been a surge in people volunteering for the Civil Air Patrol. Diamondhead is the newest community to form a Civil Air Patrol Squadron in Mississippi.

"It's attracted a lot of aviation enthusiasts and old time pilots here because of the runways that go into the residential areas and it's a real aviation community," Wilkes said.

Many of the people who volunteer are retired and searching for a way to serve their country or are just looking for a way to get in the air.

"It's paid for by the government and it helps them out because in this point in our history, (the military is) spread very, very thin," said Jerry Curtain, a volunteer pilot.

The Civil Air Patrol also provides aerospace education for teachers and has a cadet program for teens interested in aviation.