After a distinguished 35-year career in the U.S. Air Force, the first three-star general to officially fly with Civil Air Patrol is retiring.
Lt. Gen. Kirk Pierce will step down March 31 from his post as commander, Continental U.S. North American Aerospace Defense Command Region, First Air Force (Air Forces Northern and Air Forces Space), in a change of command with his successor.
Pierce retires with more than 5,000 flight hours in a variety of Air Force aircraft, along with Civil Air Patrol’s Cessna 182T at Tyndall Air Base, Florida, and Cessna 206 at Maxwell Air Force Base. Tyndall is home to First Air Force and Maxwell to CAP National Headquarters.
Flying with CAP began nearly two years ago, and he has already accumulated about 140 hours of flight time in the Air Force auxiliary’s Cessnas.
“It gives me a great opportunity to get out and fly,” Pierce said. “I went out and flew with the Civil Air Patrol [CAP-USAF] team in Colorado Springs, which was awesome! It’s a big part of our command, and I’m really excited about doing it.”
Like the true leader he is, Pierce didn’t skip any steps despite his rank.
“I went through all the training, took a check ride, and did a mission check in it, so I’m no different than anybody else,” he said, describing the opportunity as “a side benefit” of commanding First Air Force, which oversees Civil Air Patrol.
“We have three aircraft out in front of our headquarters — a CAP 182, an F-15, and an F-16 — and as far as I can tell I’m the only one that has had a mission check in all three of those aircraft,” he said.
Even though the aircraft Pierce has flown in the Air Force, primarily trainers and fighters, and CAP planes are quite different, “flying is flying,” Pierce said.
“It’s having a crosscheck and thinking ahead of the plane, watching the weather and watching things that change,” he explained. “Every time you get complacent, that’s when something changes significantly, especially on the ground like a taxiway, or weather happens. Whatever, it’s the same skillset, just different speeds.”
What is the significance of the general’s time in CAP aircraft?
“I think it’s a couple of things,” Pierce said. “One, I get to understand better. If you’re flying the aircraft and you’re hanging out with them, both on the CAP-USAF, the active-duty side with the reservists and Civil Air Patrol, all the great volunteers here in America that are doing that job, it lets me have more than just an affinity for it.
“That I can actually go fly and see what they go through, see what aircraft the Air Force helps provides for them, what upgrades are done, like the avionics are great and all these details. It helps me see the maintenance and how well the aircraft are kept up or not kept up. In our case, they’re kept up great so it’s a good news story.”
And the other side of flying with CAP?
“It does afford me the opportunity to get out and show the Civil Air Patrol brand to everybody and help the CAP national commander, Maj. Gen. Edward D. Phelka, as he continues the campaign to gain awareness and help people understand all the great things that CAP does.
“I’ll show up somewhere with a small runway, FBO (fixed-base operator), drop in like Cowden County and pump my own gas and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re a three-star and you’re here by yourself. What are you doing, what’s CAP, what does Civil Air Patrol do.?’ It helps facilitate telling the story in a lot of ways. I think it’s awesome.”
Sharing the Civil Air Patrol story will continue for Pierce when he retires from the Air Force, as he intends to fly with CAP’s Colorado Wing as a civilian.
“As the First Air Force commander, CAP is one of our key mission enablers with them being one of the largest fleets of single-engine piston aircraft in the world, with 540 planes available, plus 54 gliders. In the past year, they flew more than 70,000 hours in Air Force-assigned missions for us as the official U.S. Air Force auxiliary,” he said.
“To have an opportunity to continue to serve with CAP, but now as a volunteer CAP pilot in the future, means I would have the honor of continuing to take part in CAP’s remarkable contributions.”