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, January 21, 2011

Aviation – A Common Denominator for Education

     The FAA recently released its list of American high schools that focused on an aviation-related curriculum in 2010.  There are 54 schools in 24 states that do this.  
     Interestingly, there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent list that shows how many elementary and middle/junior high schools incorporate that type of curriculum.  They’re certainly out there.  In the Minneapolis/St. Paul area (where the CAF Red Tail Project is located), there will be two as of the 2011-12 school year. A school in the northern Minneapolis suburb of Blaine will join the established Farnsworth Aerospace Pre-K-8 Magnet in St. Paul in incorporating practical applications of science, math, technology, history, geography, writing and reading to life on (and above) the earth.
     In 2007, I had the pleasure of escorting Tuskegee Airmen Hiram Mann and Charles McGee to Farnsworth so they could see the facility and meet some of the students.  The Airmen were also feted at an assembly where they told about their experiences during WWII and how important it is to set goals and overcome any obstacles to meet them - and reap the rewards. 
     Col. McGee and Lt. Col. Mann brought their copies of the group’s Congressional Gold Medal with them and after reassuring the students that they were not real gold, passed them around.  Holding that medal in their hands gave even the youngest of the students a sense of how much these men had accomplished.
     To read a story about the Airmen’s visit to Farnsworth, click here and scroll down to page 4.
   Farnsworth students represent just a fraction of the overall student population in the St. Paul Public School system.  They had the opportunity to meet with the Airmen because they go to a special school.  The Airmen only had time to make that one visit so other students in other schools didn’t have the opportunity to be inspired by their stories. 
    This is a fundamental information gap and the CAF Red Tail Project aims to help fill it with its RISE ABOVE traveling exhibit.  Imagine that the Project’s P-51C Mustang fighter is scheduled to appear at a weekend air show in <you name the state>.  The traveling exhibit leaves its previous venue early Monday morning and the driving team arrives in the city hosting the upcoming air show on Tuesday.  Wednesday morning, the RISE ABOVE exhibit trailer is pulled into a school parking lot and set up for student visits.  
    Throughout the day, students walk out the door of the school, across the parking lot and up the stairs into RISE ABOVE.  They’ll experience brightly colored displays with lots of graphics and interactive “games” that tell the story of a relatively small group of black men who wanted nothing more than a chance to be judged by their courage and skill as pilots rather than the color of their skin.  Chances are very, very good that the students had never heard about the Tuskegee Airmen in their history classes.  Chances are also very good that many students will be inspired by their story to consider aviation as a career.
   On Thursday, RISE ABOVE goes to another school, and on Friday it sets up at a local mall where kids and adults can visit.  Late Friday afternoon, it moves to the air show venue.  Over the weekend, hundreds of people walk through RISE ABOVE where they gain a new understanding and appreciation for what the Tuskegee Airmen did seventy years ago and what they stand for today.  RISE ABOVE will also help air show attendees better understand the significance of the beautiful Mustang with the bright red tail as it roars overhead with the distinct sound of the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine.
   Click here to see an artist’s rendering of RISE ABOVE and plan to visit it when it comes to your area in 2012.

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