Many adult staff members of the Wing will no doubt remember Andy Sumner who served for many years with 121 and 198 Squadron before he emigrated to the United States of America. Andy came back to the UK to visit 121 Squadron back in April 2005 and he is always keen to keep an eye on our website to see what's happening on his old Squadrons and within the wing as a whole. For those of you who don't know Andy, he is now serving as a Captain in the Civil Air Patrol and has kindly taken the time to write to us to map out his Air Cadet Organization career and tell us how the Civil Air Patrol (CAP) and Air Training Corps differ. Andy's story is quite unique in that he is the only RAFVR(T) officer I know who has moved to the US and attained his equivalent rank in the CAP.
I hope you all enjoy Andy's Letter from America.
I am Captain Andy Sumner from NER-VT-033 Squadron, Civil Air Patrol the official Auxiliary to the United States Air Force. My squadron is based at Knapp Airport , Barre Vermont .
How did I become interested in aviation? Well it all started many years ago when my Dad came home and informed me he had found where the local Air Training Corps Squadron was and would take me along to see if I would like to join. On that first visit I became a member of 121 Squadron ATC and stayed for almost six years. On my departure from the squadron I was a Staff cadet and held the rank of Corporal. Leaving to start my new career in the Royal Air Force initially as an Electronic Mechanic Ground Communications. While serving at RAF Stanbridge my trade then became Electronic Mechanic Telecommunications. I then spent three and half years in Germany before returning to RAF Locking for my Technicians course. Once qualified I served at RAF Oakhanger before being posted to RAFE Thurso to work with the United States Navy. My final posting was RAF Cosford which many of you will know well, finally leaving the RAF with the rank of Corporal.
Of course it didn't take me long to realize I missed the service life so I joined the Royal Navy Reserve and served for two years. Realizing it was the RAF I missed I became a member of the ATC once again this time as a Civilian Instructor yes at 121 squadron. A couple of years later I became the Squadron Warrant Officer, during which time I qualified as a Drill Instructor and Range Officer. After four years I took my Commission and became the Squadron Training Officer and was offered the post of Wing Shooting Officer which I accepted. I left 121 Squadron with mixed feelings because I was happy to be taking command of my own squadron but sad to be leaving a squadron where I had spent many happy times. Although I was now CO of 198 Hinckley Squadron I couldn't stay away from 121 so I spent four evenings a week at cadets.
Two and half years later I moved to the United States and settled in Vermont where I joined the Civil Air Patrol. All my time with the ATC paid off shortly after I was promoted to Captain my RAFVR (T) equivalent rank. I have now been a member of the CAP for just over three years and have held the position of Cadet Commander and am currently the Squadron Safety Officer.
So how does the CAP differ from the ATC? Well both are structured around aviation and leadership. The real big difference the ATC is geared solely for cadets. The CAP has squadrons that consist of just adult members, some are cadet squadrons (just like the ATC) and others are a combination. The CAP also carries out the majority of inland search and rescue missions involving missing aircraft. Cadets and adults can train to be members of ground teams for search and rescue and adult members can train for aircrew.
The ATC and CAP were both formed in 1941, 5 February for the ATC and 1 December for the CAP. CAP pilots did carry out search and rescue missions along the coast during World War 2 and even bombed some U-Boats.
The CAP is split into Wings each State being a Wing. The Larger Wings, for example Texas are then split into Groups (consisting of minimum of 5 squadrons). The squadron I am a member of is known as a Composite Squadron, because it has a Cadet element and a Senior Member element. Some squadrons are known as a Cadet Squadron and some a Senior Squadron. Senior Squadrons have adult members who are more interested in the search and rescue only and do not wish to participate in cadet activities. Cadet Squadrons are just like squadrons in the ATC and the Composite Squadrons have a mixture of cadet activities and have members who are not interested in the cadet side of things.
Cadets progress through the ranks by passing written exams, promotion boards and physical tests. They can be promoted every other month. There are nine NCO ranks starting with Cadet Airman Basic and rising to Cadet Chief Master Sergeant. Then there are six cadet officer ranks starting with Cadet 2 nd Lieutenant and rising to Cadet Colonel.
It takes a lot of hard work and dedication to achieve the higher ranks.
Cadets may train to be ground team members and take part in search and rescue missions. Cadets are not allowed to take part in the air search part. On the flying side cadets and adults are not allowed to do aerobatics. During the summer months there is plenty of flying available for cadets as the squadron is based at the local airport and has a CAP plane based at the hangar.
The squadron is fairly small compared to 121 Squadron but has slowly risen in numbers over the last few years. The biggest problem we cover a big area and it isn't as easy to travel to the squadron as it is in Nuneaton . Another problem is that the CAP isn't as well known as the ATC. I have spoken with people who have lived in the area for years and they have never heard of it. When you take in to account the size of the United States compared with Great Britain and then look at membership numbers 56,000 for the CAP and about 55,000 for Air Cadets in UK you can start to appreciate why.
The CAP starts taking cadets at the age of 12; they can stay a cadet up to the age of 21 where they become a senior member. Unlike the ATC that usually makes uniformed adult staff retire at 55 (There are exception) you can stay in uniform until the day you die, as long as you stay an active member.
As an ex drill instructor it is taking some getting used to a different style of drill and commands. I think the CAP way is more comfortable but for smartness you can't beat the RAF way, you only have to watch the Queens Colour Squadron to see who is best.
An activity which CAP cadets can do that ATC don't is rocketry; I haven't had the pleasure of trying this yet but look and sound great fun. The ATC activity I miss most is the shooting. Although CAP cadets can shoot it's not a programmed event usually only happens on annual camp. That said with the gun laws in Vermont being the second most liberal in the United States and because I have three acres of land so I can go in my back yard and shoot.
I am currently working at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire , USA where I am the Shift Supervisor with rank of Sergeant in Department of Safety and Security. My experience with the Air Training Corps and Civil Air Patrol has helped me tremendously in preparing me for working with college students. It is a very interesting job and has its pleasurable moments and times of excitement, some I will never forget and some I don't wish to have to experience again. During my time at Dartmouth I have qualified to drive the Safety boat a 20ft long pontoon boat requiring a commercial boat operator's license. You would be amazed on how much harder it is to navigate along the river at night.
Hopefully in the not too distant future I will be able to pay another visit to your squadron and this time I will bring my uniform so you can see the differences.
Keep up the good work and good luck to you all.
Capt. Andy Sumner CAP Ner-VT-033