Profile - The CAF Red Tail Project

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South St. Paul, MN, United States
The mission of the Commemorative Air Force's (CAF) Red Tail Squadron is to preserve and share the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America's first black military pilots. The Airmen served with distinction during WWII (and beyond). They overcame racism on the ground to fight fascism in the air, fighting for a country that turned a blind eye to policies and a large population that discriminated against these men and their families because of the color of their skin. The CAF Red Tail Squadron restored and flies a red-tailed P-51C Mustang such as the Airmen flew during WWII. The airplane appears at air shows in North America and at each stop her crew tells the story of the Airmen and how through persistence and courage they overcame huge obstacles in order to serve in the military. In 2011, the CAF Red Tail Squadron developed a traveling exhibit called "RISE ABOVE" to educate people - especially young people - about the Airmen and how they demonstrated the importance of setting goals and overcoming obstacles in order to succeed.

Friday, October 29, 2010

How the Tuskegee Airmen Continue to Serve

     On July 29, 2010 members of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. (TAI) and their spouses gathered for the opening of their 39th National Convention in San Antonio, TX.   This well-attended annual meeting has a full schedule of general business sessions, recognition, awards, and exhibits, but any attendee will tell you that the best part is being able to reconnect with friends who are only seen in person once a year.
     While the National Convention is a highlight, TAI is active all year long through its chapters and scholarship programs. It has more than 50 chapters across the country that are dedicated to three main goals: 
  1. Honoring the accomplishments and perpetuating the history of African-Americans who participated in air crew, ground crew and operations support training in the Army Air Corps during WWII.    
  2. Introducing young people across the nation to the world of aviation and science through local and national programs such as Young Eagles, TAI youth programs and special activities such as the sponsorship and facilitation of regional Youth Academies.  These Academies typically cover aerodynamics, flight navigation, aircraft mechanics and weather.
    To learn more about Young Eagles, click HERE.  For information about the TAI youth programs, click HERE.
  3. Providing annual scholarships and awards to deserving individuals, groups and corporations whose deeds lend support to TAI's goals.  TAI also gives awards to deserving cadets in the Air Force Reserve Office Training Corps.  For more information about the TAI scholarship program click HERE.
     The Tuskegee Airmen Inc. website has a wealth of information about the Tuskegee Airmen and the various programs it sponsors.  Visit to learn more.

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Brief Note On Traveling Exhibits

     The next Redtail Mail newsletter will feature a story about traveling exhibits.  There are a surprising number of them on the road at any given time, and the story will introduce readers to three groups that already have something similar to what the CAF Red Tail Project is going to build.  A common theme among these three non-profits (and other for-profit entities contacted for the story) that have traveling exhibits is the benefit of taking their message and/or product to their desired audience instead of assuming it will be sought out. 
     Boy Scouts of America was one of the groups that so graciously agreed to be interviewed about their traveling exhibit. They marked their 100th anniversary this year and to celebrate the occasion put together a 10,000 square foot highly interactive exhibit called Adventure Base 100 that travels from state to state. (It's in Phoenix this weekend.)
     One of the components of this huge base camp is a traveling exhibit that is similar in concept to what the Project will be building. The Scouts have put together a short video showing what's inside their traveling exhibit and it's a great way to see what can be done with a semi-trailer and imagination (and funding, too, of course).
    Click on the link below to take a short online tour of the Scouts' traveling exhibit and then imagine kids and adults strolling through the CAF Red Tail Project's "RISE ABOVE" exhibit as they experience the exciting history and lasting legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through intriguing displays and hands-on activities. The upcoming CAF Red Tail Project's unique traveling exhibit will be something every visitor will remember.

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Note About Flight Mechanics (the people, not the science)

     Any honest pilot is quick to point out that, no matter how competent he or she is, each successful flight is made in partnership with the mechanic who works on the airplane.  Some mechanics who helped make aviation history are easily searchable online: Charles E. Taylor was hired to manage the Wright Brothers' bike shop and ended up designing and building the Flyer's engine from scratch when no manufacturer could meet the brothers' specifications. Ernest Eugene Tissot, Sr. prepped Amelia Earhart's Lockheed Vega when Earhart made the first flight - ever - from Honolulu, Hawaii to California in 1935. 
     As airplanes became accepted as military weaponry, the "flight crew" concept was born.  During WWII, a U.S. Air Corps pilot had an average of 10 support personnel for his airplane with a crew chief - the head mechanic - leading the team.  The Tuskegee Airmen were no exception except for one thing - their flight crews were made up entirely of black men due to the U.S. Armed Services segregation practices of the time.  The names of many of these highly trained flight crew personnel are fading into history, but a few live on in the books written by and about the Airmen.
     Charlene E McGee Smith, Ph.D. wrote a biography about her father, Original Tuskegee Airman USAF Col (ret.) Charles E. McGee called Tuskegee Airman.  In it, there's a paragraph that alludes to the unique relationship between the pilot and his mechanic. An excerpt: "Charles was assigned P-47D No. 280 and named his plane 'Kitten.'  He chose the name for two reasons.  First, it was his nickname for [his wife] Frances and, second, it was also in honor of his mechanic, Nathaniel 'Nate' Wilson, who kept her engine purring."
     This book and others are available at the CAF Red Tail Project's online store.  We invite readers to shop early and often for the holiday season because every purchase helps support the Project.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The CAF's Big Weekend Flyin' The 'Birds

     The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is hosting its annual AIRSHO (not a typo - there is no "W" after the "O"!) this weekend in Midland, TX where the CAF is headquartered.
     The non-profit CAF has only been formally in existence since 1961, but it has worked since that time to restore and preserve more than 160 warbirds.  Here's a link to the page on the CAF's website that tells a bit of their history: 
     The Minnesota Wing of the CAF - which happens to be the CAF's oldest unit -  is going to be showcasing all of the vintage aircraft that the Wing's volunteers have restored:

    The powerful warbirds:
             *  the B-25 Mitchell Bomber, Miss Mitchell
             *  the Red Tail Project's red-tailed P-51C Mustang, Tuskegee Airmen
    The "trainer series":
             *  the Ryan PT-22 Recruit Primary Trainer
             *  the Vultee BT-13A Valiant Basic Trainer  
             *  the Harvard Mk lV Advanced Trainer
     The small, versatile (fabric-covered) utility airplane:
             * the Stinson L5A Sentinel

     The man-hours (and fundraising!) that the restoration and ongoing maintenance of these rare and beautiful airplanes represent is truly amazing.
     Along with many of the other vintage bombers at the AIRSHO, the Miss Mitchell crew will be giving rides to paying customers.  The Minnesota Wing also offers rides in the airplane at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, MN.  Here's a link to information about that:  
     The embedded video on that page is fun to watch. It also contains a great off-the-cuff quote in it that sums up why the staff at the CAF HQ and the volunteers at the Minnesota Wing (and all other Wings) and the Red Tail Project do what they do to keep these airplanes flying: "By doing this, the money that we make - we're a non-profit organization  - allows us to keep operating these aircraft so that veterans can still see them fly;  also so that younger generations can be aware of the aircraft ... that those guys flew during the War." 

Friday, October 1, 2010

The CAF Red Tail Project Salutes: Aviation Pioneer Bessie Coleman

     Almost every hero has a hero - a larger-than-life figure whose story of courage or perseverance in a specific situation(s) challenged that person to step up and try something difficult or new to him or her. Over the years in numerous interviews, many Tuskegee Airmen indicated that one of their heroes was really a heroine - the first black woman pilot, Bessie Coleman. 
     While they could appreciate her skills as a pilot, it was what she had to do to become one that got their attention. Born in 1892, she was one of 13 children. Airplanes had not even been invented at the time she was born, but she became fascinated by them during her teenage years. She saved the money she earned as a manicurist and tried to find a flight school that would teach her to fly. No luck. Not even individual pilots would take her on. She had two strikes against her in the United States of that time - she was black and she was a woman. So, in 1920, she booked passage and sailed to France where racial and gender discrimination was not an obstacle to a woman focused on becoming a pilot.
     She earned her pilot's license and honed her flying skills before returning to the U.S. in 1922. Her goal was to earn enough money through appearances at air shows and in lecture halls to open a flight school for black students. For four years, she traveled the country, wowing the crowds air acrobatic stunts and entertaining talks (and saving her money).
     However, in 1926 the dream died when Coleman was flying an older airplane (but new to her) the day before an air show in Jacksonville, FL. She was planning to parachute out of the plane the next day so didn't have her safety belt fastened; she wanted look over the side of the plane to check out the landing terrain. As she and her co-pilot were putting the plane through the program they would present the following day, the plane malfunctioned, went into a steep tailspin and Coleman fell out of the plane to her death. Her male co-pilot perished in the ensuing crash and fire. Coleman was 33.
     Her life was cut short but she had blazed a trail  that would inspire future Tuskegee Airmen. 
     For more about Bessie Coleman, check out