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, February 18, 2011

The 2011 Air Shows

     The volunteer crew of the CAF Red Tail Project's rare P51-C Mustang
Tuskegee Airmen are finalizing the schedule for the airplane's 2011 air show appearances. As of now, the airplane will appear at nine different venues beginning next month and going into October. You can see the current schedule here. (You might want to bookmark that page for future reference.)
      This is an exciting time for the pilots and other volunteers as they figure out how to balance their time at air shows with the airplane with their commitment to family and employers. They'll need reserve lodging close to the venue and make arrangements to have the airplane safely housed and fueled while en route and at the show. They need to allow for the airplane's ongoing scheduled maintenance, too.
      The script for the show will also need to be reviewed and updated. The script is what the announcer reads as the Mustang flies over the crowd, Merlin engine in full throat. It outlines details about the airplane (how big the engine is, how fast it flies, how Mustangs were used by the military and so forth) but the main message is always about how this type of airplane was flown by Tuskegee Airmen who painted their planes' tails red so that both friends and enemies would know exactly who was flying and fighting in the skies over Europe during World War Two. The script should give air show attendees a strong sense of what those young black men went through to be allowed to train to fly; how they kept their eyes on the goal and did whatever it took to earn their wings as America's first black military pilots.
      If the air show is near to where a Tuskegee Airman lives, he will be contacted to see if he would like to make an appearance with the airplane. If that is feasible, the Project will work to ensure that his visit to the air show goes smoothly by arranging transportation to the show, gate admission, and on-site logistics such as getting him and accompanying friends and/or family from the gate to the airplane by motorized vehicle at a certain time. If the Airman is able to give a talk about his experiences, the Project's team will coordinate that very special event with the air show organizers as well.
      During the air show, the pilots and crew have a lot of time between flights so they park the Mustang and greet everyone who stops by. Some people touch the airplane, others just look at it, but all are impressed. Many air show attendees know its story with the Project:  how it was restored to fly again in 2001 after being grounded for 55 years. How the Project's first leader, Don Hinz, was flying it at a Minnesota air show in 2004 when the engine completely failed. How Don deadsticked the airplane - which had turned into a very heavy glider - away from houses to a crash landing amongst some trees. How Don survived the crash but died of his injuries the next day. How the rest of the team committed to rebuilding the Mustang again so it could continue to educate people about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. How it took five years to get the airplane restored and back in the skies in July, 2009.
      Others may be seeing a warbird up close for the first time and ask about the red tail. The crew is always happy to talk about the airplane and the Tuskegee Airmen. Of course, there will also be hats, shirts, calendars and other fun stuff for sale - all proceeds from on-site sales and through the Project's online store go maintain the airplane.
      If the Mustang named Tuskegee Airmen is going to be at an air show close to you this year, we hope you'll come out to see it and the crew. Be sure to stop by and say "hi!"

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