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 28, 2011

“Colonel Mac”

     Last week’s blog mentioned how Tuskegee Airmen USAF Col. (ret) Charles E. McGee and Lt. Col. (ret) Hiram Mann visited a St. Paul (MN) magnet school that focuses on educating using aviation-related concepts.  That was one of many trips that McGee has made to talk about the Tuskegee Airmen. 
     “Colonel Mac” will be making another trip this coming July, this time to Dayton, OH – the Wright Brothers’ hometown. Dayton is the site of the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHOF), which has selected Col. McGee and three others notable members of the aviation community for induction into the NAHOF.  The others who will be honored are Iven Carl Kincheloe, Jr., S. Harry Robertson, and Thomas D. White.
      This will be the NAHOF’s 50th annual “Enshrinement” ceremony.  To date, 203 people have been so honored.  Col. McGee and the other inductees will be joining Charles Lindbergh, Bessie Coleman (see the October 1, 2010 blog entry), Chuck Yeager, space pioneers such as Neil Armstrong and Jim Lovell, and others who have contributed to the history of aviation and the aviation industry.
       The “official” NAHOF biography of Col. McGee that will be featured during the induction ceremony has not been released yet, but here are some highlights of a very noteworthy life and career that that bio may touch on:
  • In 1942, he was accepted into the Army Air Corps Enlisted Reserve and soon after was ordered to report to Tuskegee Alabama for flight training.  Originally assigned to class 43-G, he quickly advanced to class 43-F because of his prior college experience (he had been studying engineering at the University of Illinois before applying to the Army Air Corps’s pilot training program).
  • After graduating from Tuskegee as a 2nd Lt., he shipped out to southern Italy in December 1943 and flew missions in Bell P-39s and then P-47 Thunderbolts before starting to fly the P-51C Mustang named “Kitten”- after his nickname for his wife, Frances - in July 1944.
  • He flew 137 fighter missions during WWII, 100 fighter/bomber missions during the Korean conflict and 173 reconnaissance missions in Vietnam – the most combat missions ever flown by one pilot.
  • He held various positions of authority during his Air Force career, including base commander at Richards-Gebauer Air Force Base in Missouri.  He retired from the military at age 54 in 1973 after 30 years’ service.
  • His post-military career included being Vice President in a securities firm and earning a degree in Business Administration while in his 60s.  He served as president of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. and, at the request of the Air Force, has traveled to Iraq to do meet-and-greets with troops. 
     The thing about Col. McGee is that he continues to enjoy life even into his 10th decade.  I worked on the 2010 award-winning Rose Parade float that honored the Tuskegee Airmen; he was one of the Airmen selected to ride on the float.  “Only” 90 years old at the time, he came to the tent that housed the float well ahead of the times he needed to be there just to look around, meet observers, and talk with those working on the float.  He was gracious through delays and joyous when on the float because he was fully engaged in the process.
     The CAF Red Tail Project congratulates Col. Mac on his election to the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s “Class of 2011” and we thank him for his past and present contributions to the preservation and betterment of life in these United States.

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.

Friday, January 14, 2011

“Those colored pilots”

     The black military pilots and their support crews who are now known collectively as the Tuskegee Airmen weren’t called that during the second World War as they flew and fought against the Nazis.  A quote by Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. (ret.)  William O. Holloman III in a 2008 article that appeared in in the Honolulu Star Bulletin makes a good point about that.  In reference to his experiences during the War, he said, “We were ‘those colored pilots.’  Then we were ‘Negroes’ until 1963 when we became ‘black.’ Then somebody dreamed up ‘African-American’, which I sort of resent.  I’m an American who happens to be of African descent.”  He went on to say that the title of “Tuskegee Airmen” really came to be recognized in the 1970s when the group that trained at Tuskegee organized an educational trust under that name.  That group, Tuskegee Airmen Inc., continues to sponsor myriad scholarships annually.
     “Wild Bill” Holloman passed away last year, but like all Airmen, he left a legacy of war heroism during WWII and a post-war record of achievement and citizenship.  After the War, he went on to become the first black military helicopter pilot and served in Korea and Vietnam.  Overall, he logged more than 17,000 hours as a military pilot.  He later became a professor of history at the University of Washington. 
     Holloman was interviewed at the Planes of Fame Air Show in Chino, CA in May 2010.  It was his last air show interview.  Follow this link to hear that interview which runs about 22 minutes. 
     Like so many of the Airmen, Holloman was always happy to talk about his experiences as a black military pilot because he understood how important the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen were. He logged a lot of travel time going to different venues to speak.  He and another Airman, Alexander Jefferson, went to Hawaii in 2008 to speak at a Black History Month event at the Pacific Aviation Museum at Pearl Harbor.  While  there, they met a local artist who had included the two of them in a picture she painted to honor the Tuskegee Airmen.  Pati O’Neal called her painting “Tuskegee Tales” and it depicts the CAF Red Tail Project’s Mustang sitting in its classic hangar in South St. Paul, MN.  A young Holloman in full flight gear is shown in the wing of the plane and a grandfatherly Jefferson sits nearby reading to a group of children.
     Across the ceiling of the hangar is a quote from another Airman, Joseph P. Gomer of Duluth MN.  It was his way of describing what so many Airmen thought about fighting for a country that insisted on treating them as second-class citizens because of the color of their skin.  Gomer’s beautiful statement reads, “But we’re all Americans. That’s why we chose to fight. I’m as American as anybody. My black ancestors were brought over here perhaps against their will to help build America. My German ancestors came over to build a new life. And my Cherokee ancestors were here to greet all the boats.”
     To read an article about the painting that features Holloman, Jefferson and Gomer, click here and scroll down to page 5.  (You'll need Adobe Reader to see this - click here to install it. It's free.)
     Prints of the O'Neal painting are available at the CAF Red Tail Project’s online store.  Click here for more information about this unique and beautifully rendered print. Remember all proceeds from the CAF Red Tail Project's online store go directly to further the Project's mission of educating people about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Sam Morse’s Invention

     Yesterday’s Red Tail Project tweet (click here to read it) noted that on January 6, 1838 Samuel Morse demonstrated for the first time his telegraph and the code he invented to go over the telegraph lines.  Six years later, he received $30,000 from Congress to build the first telegraph line from Washington DC to Baltimore.  His invention ultimately transformed the speed of communication in the United States and abroad, and was only challenged by the invention of the telephone in 1877.  The two technologies remained separate but relevant for many decades. Telephony has thrived – iPhone and texting anyone? - but telegraphy has faded into the background.
      Morse code was very important in the field of aviation and to the military. In the 1930s, both civilian and military pilots had to be able to use Morse code for communication and to identify navigational beacons that transmitted their identifiers with short bursts of code. Although Morse code was not used extensively during The Great War, that changed during the Second World War.  The Allies and the Axis powers all used radio telegraphy to communicate during long-range ship-to-ship situations because voice-to-voice radio systems weren’t very powerful or secure.  (While it’s odd to think of a code – which is typically a form of encryption - needing to be encrypted, that was the case for Morse code usage during the war.)
     Warplanes (think bombers) and airplanes on long-range patrol also used radio telegraphy.  On the ground, it proved its worth because it required no special equipment and those with the proper training could understand it “live” just by listening to the dits, dots and dashes as they came off the wire.
     The last military Morse code message was sent to then-President Bill Clinton in July 1999.  He picked up the message via email!
      On a related note, Samuel Morse was a key player in the formation of the company that used his telegraph and code to best advantage – Western Union.  Ironically, it was Western Union that managed one of the saddest tasks of the War.  It received the information and arranged delivery of the telegrams that started out: “We regret to inform you…” notifying a family that a loved one had died during wartime.  The families of 66 Tuskegee Airmen pilots received that dreaded telegram.