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, July 29, 2011

AirVenture Adventures

     There was one thing to be said about the CAF Red Tail Squadron's rare P-51C Mustang's two restorations - even those who couldn't see the work being done on the airplane had a pretty good idea what the end product would look like.  As you know, I posted photos of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit here last week but, like so many at the Squadron, I really had no idea what it would look like up close and personal.  After seeing it at AirVenture Oshkosh 2011, I'd have to say it's a hit!  Unless you knew it was a road-ready semi-trailer, the inside theater with the long curved screen, cushioned floors and walls, seating for 30 and air conditioning would never give it away.
     Terry and Jeanette Hollis are the driving team for the exhibit and it was their job to set it up the first time at AirVenture and they'll repeat the process at all future venues. It's kind of like a "transformer" toy - things get unhooked and slid in and pulled out and hooked up again in an entirely different configuration. Here's what the back of the traveling exhibit looks like when the extensions are out and the theater is set up.

      
     Here's the whole exhibit area as seen from the ConocoPhillips Plaza on Sunday, before they started to move aircraft onto the Plaza.  The Mustang is to the left - it was so great to have it right next to the exhibit so visitors can make the connection between the airplane and the traveling exhibit - our two educational tools.

     Mustang volunteer/mechanic Steve Kaminsen (standing) and Crew Chief John Beyl (on the ground) polished the Mustang after its flight from the Thunder Over Michigan Air Show the previous weekend.  I'm not sure I'm allowed to share which over-the-counter product they use to get her so shiny and slick that the bugs don't stick so I'll remain mum.  
    
     Entry to the exhibit is free, but a mini store was set up to sell merchandise.  Here's part of the team that worked to get the product sales area set up and working.  Like our web store, all proceeds from air show merchandise sales support the educational mission.  
From left:  CAF Red Tail Squadron Scheduling Manager Marvona Welsh (from Indiana), Squadron Marketing Director LaVone Kay (from Minnesota), and volunteer/artist Pati O'Neal (from Hawaii!).

     On Tuesday, July 26th, Tuskegee Airmen USAF Colonels (ret.) Charles E. McGee and James Warren stopped by the Squadron's exhibit area and spent time talking to people and signing autographs.  Here they are by the CAF Red Tail  Squadron's Mustang "Tuskegee Airmen."

     Later in the afternoon, Col. McGee went to the huge Ford tent across the Plaza from our exhibit to do a "meet-and-greet" and sign autographs.  By the time 2:00 rolled around, there was quite a line waiting to shake his hand and talk to him for a minute.  The line never got shorter as  people continually arrived to see Col. McGee.  Ford exhibit personnel finally had to create an artificial "end of the line" at 3:00.

      Always gracious, Col. McGee particularly enjoys saying a few words to kids.  Here he signs autographs for (from right) brothers Wyatt, Collin and Nate.  I don't know what he said to them, but when the boys stepped away from the table, they had big smiles on their faces.
Seated to Col. McGee's right is Brian R. Smith, president of the National Museum of the Tuskegee Airmen in Detroit where Ford is based.   CAF Red Tail Squadron Coordinator Doug Rozendaal was also at the autograph table.

     There were other lines at AirVenture besides the one at the Ford tent waiting for Col McGee.   The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit was at the south edge of the ConocoPhillips Plaza and two of the aircraft sharing our neck of the woods were a Navy Sea Stallion helicopter and a Navy Orion plane.   The line for the Sea Stallion kept moving because visitors could enter at the rear and exit on the right.  The line for the Orion moved more slowly because visitors had to climb up to see the inside.   Big plane!

     Speaking of big planes, the CAF's B-29 "FiFi" flew in as scheduled at 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon.  She caused quite a stir on the ground as she passed overhead and the AirVenture people decided to park her at the main entrance to the ConocoPhillips Plaza.  This picture, taken from our exhibit area, shows some of the many aircraft and parts of aircraft we could see on the Plaza.  "FiFi's" tail is the one with the big "A" on it - pretty impressive.  She has quite a story - click here to read a recap written for AirVenture.

     The AirVenture people also did a nice story on the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.  Click here to read it. 
      I was only able to stay at AirVenture for three days, but it was a phenomenal experience to see so many people interested in aviation come together to enjoy airplanes, air shows and fresh air.  AirVenture Oshkosh 2012 is July 23-29.    Put it on your calendar now and try and get there if you can.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.

www.redtail.org




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