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Tue, May 21

Saluting CAP: Civil Air Patrol is serious about aviation

Courtesy photo

Irene Leverton, a Chino Valley resident, left, who became a pilot in an age when few women flew airplanes, poses with a friend in this photograph taken Dec. 26, 1944, at the Ravenswood Airport in Chicago.

He has had his pilot's license for about 18 months and is the squadron safety officer. He'd like to get involved with aerial emergency search efforts, "possibly in a support function at an incident base."

Fluhart said the CAP offers him "a variety of very interesting stuff to get involved in." He's waiting to hear what the CAP role will be in homeland security.

Urban, 67, joined the CAP just six months ago because grandchildren living with him were interested in becoming cadets.

The grandchildren are in Yuma now but he plans to continue his membership "because they need senior members to continue to help with cadets."

An Air Force veteran, Urban also has his pilot's license but hasn't flown lately.

"I'm just getting broken in as a senior with CAP," he said, but he is looking forward to "whatever they're going to want me to do."

In contrast, Irene Leverton joined the CAP in 1944 when she was 17 and has been a member off and on most of her life.

Leverton, who is 75 and moved to Chino in 1988, also got her pilot's license in 1944 and has made a living through flying all her life. She still gives flying lessons to owners of private planes. She started teaching people to fly in 1948.

She still remembers when CAP pilots sunk several enemy submarines that had come too close to the shorelines of the United States during World War II.

Now in peacetime, she said, the CAP is primarily about encouraging young people.

When she was a junior in high school she didn't need encouraging. She grew up loving aviation and flying. In 1944, she was one of 500 cadets west of Chicago whom Marines trained. "Fifty of the 500 were girls," she said, "and we received no special treatment."

She flew a CAP rescue mission near Chicago just after WWII when it "was snowing like mad." She still doesn't know if the missing plane was ever found.

In northern California in the late 1950s, she flew CAP disaster relief flights, dropping sacks of medicine and food to people isolated by floodwaters. She also has flown through mountain clouds looking for downed aircraft.

Her work as a pilot has taken her to many locations during her lifetime. She experienced mountain flying as a contract pilot for the military, operated a flight school in California, worked as an agricultural pilot, flew for the Forest Service, flew a flying taxi air service and worked as a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot examiner and as a corporate pilot. She also worked for Japan Airlines Flight School in California.

When NASA introduced its Mercury pilots to the world in 1959, few people knew that 13 women pilots also had qualified for the Mercury program. But since women weren't allowed to fly military jets then, they eventually were scratched from the program because of lack of experience with jets. Leverton was one of those 13 women.

The pilot, credited with a total of 25,500 hours in the air, thinks the CAP experience is the greatest thing for young people.

"At 15, a CAP cadet who has been studying can build their own rocket and fly it," she said.

Contact Dorine Goss at dgoss@prescottaz.com.

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