Stephen Shipp may be only 13 years old, but he is toooo mature for the Boy Scouts. He's ready for the real thing.
A seventh-grade student at Chesapeake Bay Middle School, Cadet Airman 1st Class Shipp has been a member of the Civil Air Patrol's 25-member Arundel Composite Squadron 18023 for less than a year. But already he has earned two stripes, piloted a Cessna 172 Skyhawk aircraft and assisted in several air and sea rescue missions.
Stephen has wanted to join CAP, the official auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, since he was 11. He waited patiently until age 13, the minimum age, to become a fully active cadet.
CAP is a youth education community service organization with units in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Its headquarters are in Atlanta.
Charles William Shipp, a second lieutenant in the Anne Arundel County Fire Marshal's Office, a CAP volunteer and Stephen's dad, said the patrol was created in 1941, six days before Pearl Harbor.
The volunteer organization prepares young people for aviation careers, but members assist in rescue missions and community service as well.
Arundel Squadron Cmdr. Dan Deere said CAP volunteers are authorized by the U.S. Air Force and other local authorities.
"They are a useful set of eyes and ears," he said. "Eighty percent of all searches and rescues fall on CAP. We save the taxpayers millions of dollars."
Stephen will never be able to fly in the armed forces, having lost 80 percent of his hearing after suffering an ear infection as a toddler. But his hearing does not hinder his piloting or trumpet playing for the Maryland Civil Air Patrol Band.
Three months ago, he piloted his first plane, a Cessna 172 Skyhawk, as part of CAP's flight orientation.
Flying was right up Stephen's alley, since he is considering a career as an airline pilot -- a surprising goal for someone who feared planes during much of his childhood.
"I didn't feel comfortable with them because I heard of too many crashes," he said. "But I realized how many [planes] go up in a day and how few actually crash."
As he progressed in the organization, earning two stripes after extensive testing in drilling, aerospace history and ground team skills, Stephen has maintained his excitement -- more or less.
"When calls come, I'm immediately concerned that a plane may have crashed or something, and I don't want that to happen. I get excited, but not too much," the soft-spoken, pensive young man said.
Last spring, reportedly one of CAP's busiest, Stephen helped track down a distress signal from a boat in Rock Hall and search for a mysterious dog that bit a young boy in Chesterfield.
Both missions ended happily enough. The boat signal occurred when its owner inadvertently set it off after changing the batteries, and the missing dog was found after two days, averting a painful series of shots for the bite victim.
But not all of the emergencies in which Stephen assists have happy endings. Last October, he worked with the ground team in searching for a missing plane and its pilot.
Seventy other CAP volunteers and 22 aircraft participated in the ddawn-to-dusk operation. Two months later, the young woman's body washed ashore in St. Mary's County and debris from the plane was found in the Chesapeake Bay.
Nevertheless, Stephen says he is never discouraged by a mission that ends in tragedy.
"I still try to go on every mission I can," he said. "They are a lot of fun and a lot of work. We deal in missing children, lost dogs, emergency signals from boats and aircraft. I enjoy helping people and doing something for the community."