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, April 29, 2011

Heritage Flight

     At the bigger air shows, event planners hope to be able to pull together a crowd favorite called a heritage flight.  Heritage flights feature a grouping of airplanes from older (warbirds) to newer (jets) flying together, thrilling the crowds. The CAF Red Tail Project's P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen has participated in a number of them.
     This grouping consists of the Project's P51-C Mustang, a  P-38 Lightning, an F-86 Sabrejet from the USAF Sky Blazers- precursor to the Thunderbirds - and an A-10 Thunderbolt aka the "warthog."  [The Tuskegee Airmen are probably best known for flying red-tailed Mustangs, but they also flew P-38s and P-47s, which were  known as Thunderbolts, too, a good 30 years before the modern version came out.]

     It takes a lot of piloting skill to slow down the jets and speed up the warbirds so they can fly together over enthusiastic crowds!

      In this picture, the F-86 has gone solo, leaving the Mustang, the Lightning and the Thunderbolt.

     Now it's just the Mustang and the Thunderbolt - the propellered warbird and the jet.

      These photos were taken by the USAF.  I'd like to thank Max Haynes for sharing them from his extensive collection of photographs.  Max is a talented graphic designer and aviation photographer in his own right.  He has done amazing work for the Project such as designing brochures, creating the annual calendars, and working on the new web site (hopefully to launch in May or early June) and RISE ABOVE mobile exhibit  You can see his photography and graphic art work at his web site:

The Commemorative Air Force's Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization. For more information, please visit


Friday, April 22, 2011

The Jig Was Up

     When the CAF Red Tail Project undertook the second restoration of the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, it was understood that the wrecked plane would need to be almost completely rebuilt. The cockpit and part of the red tail were the only parts that were salvageable after the May 2004 crash.  Besides rebuilding the fuselage, the wings also had to be fabricated.  That job went to Odegaard Wings, Inc. in Kindred, North Dakota - the outfit that had created the wings for the Mustang's first restoration.
      Building an airplane wing is a series of small steps.  Brent Meester, owner of Odegaard Wings, said, "Although we call it a 'wing', it's really two wings joined together.  We typically build wings for D-model Mustangs and figure about 1,500 man hours per side for them. The Red Tail Project's Mustang is a C-model so we needed about 1800 man hours per side to build - that's 3600 hours altogether.  We typically had two people working on it, but sometimes there were more.  It just depended on what needed to be done to move on to the next step.  It's like a big puzzle that has to be put together perfectly so when we're doing one step, it is in anticipation of the next step."
   He continued, "Because we had built the wings for the Project's Mustang's first restoration, we had patterns on file.  We also have the original plans from North American Aviation.  Some of the tougher wing components survived the 2004 crash.  We checked all of the surviving pieces for structural integrity, sending some out for ultrasound inspection.  If there was any question, the part was set aside and we made a new one."
     Key to building a warbird wing is a wing jig.  Here's a picture of the Mustang's new wing(s) on an Odegaard Wings jig which is 40 feet long (12.19 meters). 

     All of the work on the wing is done by hand, including the measurements. There is no computerized robot to program, just competent brains on a mission.  Every spar, every rib, every rivet placement was calculated and recalculated because it's not like you can just plug up a hole that is drilled in the wrong place when you're building a wing.
     Each half of the wing has more than 400 parts in it, not counting the small connectors. After the wing is done - and before it is removed from the jig - every outside rivet connection must be sanded.  This is done to reduce drag which can affect the airplane's performance.  This is how it's done, hour after hour:

     After the wing is removed from the jig, the flaps,  ailerons and other components are attached.  When the fuselage was completed by the folks at Tri-State Aviation, the wing was trucked there to be mated to it.  Everyone held their collective breath for a moment when the time came to line up the bolt holes in the wing and fuselage.  No worries - the staff at both Odegaard Wings and Tri-State Aviation had done their usual excellent jobs and everything fell into place.

  For some great photos and commentary from Odegaard Wings about some of their projects, click here.
 (Photos courtesy of Steve Kaminsen - one of the intrepid volunteers who spent dozens of weekends from 2005 to 2009 trekking across Minnesota to North Dakota to help put the plane back together again.)

The Commemorative Air Force's Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization. For more information, please visit

Friday, April 15, 2011

The 1925 Army War College Report

     When researching information about the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, I'd often seen references to the 1925 Army War College Report called The Use of Negro Manpower in War.  This report set the tone for how black men were treated in the US military until the "Tuskegee Experiment" was put in place in 1941.
     I had heard the report contained incorrect assumptions about black men's ability to serve but reading the whole thing is definitely an eye-opener.  It really brings home what the pilots who became known as the Tuskegee Airmen accomplished through perseverance and plain old hard work when you read what the military thought of the black soldier after WWI was over.  
     Some of the ideas driving the unbelievably hurtful generalizations (all phrases and sentences seen in quotes are sic):

1. Black men are "very low in the scale of human evolution;" the "cranial cavity of the Negro is smaller than the white"  and his brain weighs less.  (p. 13)

2. The Southern Negro did not have the stamina to thrive in cold, rigorous climates [during wartime]. (p. 12)

3. "The intelligence of the Negro is shown in his inability to compete with the white in professions and other activity in peace time when mental equipment is an essential for success." (p. 13)

4.  "The Negro is by nature subservient and believes himself to be inferior to the white man.  He is most   susceptible to the influence of crowd psychology.  He cannot control himself in the face of danger to  the extent the white man can.  He has not the initiative and resourcefulness of the white man.  He is mentally inferior to the white man." (p. 8)

5. "In general, the Negro is jolly, docile and tractable, and lively but with harsh or unkind treatment can become stubborn, sullen and unruly." (p. 17)

     That last phrase would be an apt description of anyone's reaction to being treated badly!

     But enough. The 67-page report has hundreds of words that belittle an entire American population but it is important to consider the times in which it was written.  At the same time, it is also interesting to note that the authors did not say that black men should not be allowed to serve in the military.  Rather, they were quite specific about how black officer candidates should be trained (segregated in everything but the classroom) and serve (always under a white officer).  It also noted that the black rank and file would continue to be serviceable as combat troops and support personnel such as cooks and waiters, and on the communication lines.
     The point in very briefly discussing this report in today's blog is threefold.  One, to show that it really does exist and it is available online for anyone to read.  Two, it's important to recognize that this report was an official document of the US Army and its words helped to form its segregationist policies for many years.  Three, it reinforces how amazing it was that the Army Air Corps finally capitulated to pressure from the black population and political groups and gave the OK to set up a base to train black men to be military pilots - the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Commemorative Air Force's Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization. For more information, please visit

Friday, April 8, 2011

A Bit Of Alabama History

     There are three American place names that have meaning in the history of the WWII pilots who would become known as the Tuskegee Airmen.  First is Tuskegee, second is Tuskegee Institute, and third is Moton Field.

The City
     Tuskegee is the name of a small city in Alabama located about 50 miles ENE of Montgomery, the state capital.  It was incorporated in 1843.  It currently has a population of about 11,500.  Rosa Parks, the woman who is largely to considered to have put a face to the beginning of the civil rights movement in the 1960s because she refused to move to the back of a bus, was born there in 1913.

The School
     In 1881, a former slave - the son of a black woman and a white man - named Booker T. Washington helped establish the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute which was a school for teachers and those who wanted to learn a trade. Upon graduation, many of the black teachers were hard put to find schools for black children in which to teach because of prevailing conditions in the post-war South. 
     Washington became a well-known educator and spokesperson for African Americans. He was not afraid to approach wealthy philanthropists like Carnegie and Rockefeller to help finance the building of small community schools for black children where his graduates could teach.  He believed that by educating black people to become teachers and skilled workmen who would contribute to society, they eventually be accepted into mainstream America.  It was a passive approach with the goal of desegregation.
     Famed botanist George Washington Carver taught there for 47 years. His focus was on ways for poor black farmers to use soil that had been depleted by years of planting only cotton.  He taught crop rotation that used peanuts and sweet potatoes to bring nitrogen back into the soil which improved the cotton crop. He became famous finding new uses for alternative crops so they would also become cash crops.
     Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. who would go on to lead the 332nd Fighter Group of Tuskegee Airmen was teaching military tactics at the Tuskegee Institute when the Army Air Corps opened up flight school applications to blacks.  He didn't have far to go when he was accepted!
      The Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute later became the Tuskegee Institute.  It currently is known as Tuskegee University, a private, historically black school.

The Basic Flight Training School
     When the military, under pressure from President Franklin D. Roosevelt, decided to try to train black men to be pilots, the Tuskegee Institute was selected as the site.  It provided student housing and food for the cadets and offices for instructors and mechanics. However the main event took place at Moton Field, about 4 miles away.  
     The airfield was completed in 1942 and named after the late Robert Moton who had succeeded Booker T. Washington as President of the Tuskegee Institute.  The air field was the site of primary flight training; after cadets completed that, they moved on to Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) for advanced training.  Moton Field is now the site of the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.  The picture below is of the Hangar One Museum there.  

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

Friday, April 1, 2011

Sing It Out, Sing It Strong

     Today, we present a short quiz about our military branches' traditional songs.  Match the  branch (A-E) to the first line of the first verse of each song in the list below (1-7).   There may be more than one song per branch and there is one tricky part.  (Answers follow the quiz - there are no prizes at stake!)

A. Marine Corps
B. Air Force
C. Navy
D. Coast Guard
E. Army 

1. Off we go into the wild blue yonder
2. Eternal Father,  Strong to save
3. From Aztec shore to Arctic zone
4. Over hill, over dale
5. From the halls of Montezuma
6. First to fight, for the right
7. Anchors aweigh, my boys
8. Contact! Joy stick back!

Easy bonus question - which song is also printed in some Christian hymnals and may be sung as a hymn selection during regular services?

Bonus question answer: 2

Matching answers:
1: B
2: C
3: D
4: E
5: A
6: E
7: C
8: Keep reading

     As mentioned in yesterday's tweet, the CAF Red Tail Project's P-51C Mustang is in Colorado Springs today and tomorrow in order to participate in a cadet parade event.  It will do some flyovers today during the parade. Tomorrow afternoon, pilot and Project leader Brad Lang, who is the son of a Tuskegee Airman, will be in front of the cadets talking about the history and legacy of all the Airmen.
     One of the aspects of the Airmen that Brad may discuss is how everything started with the activation of the 99th Pursuit Squadron.  I just found out yesterday that the 99th had a fight song of its own and that prompted curiosity about the US military's songs.  The 99th's song was direct - it was wartime after all - and stirring:

Contact! Joy stick back!
Sailing through the blue
Gallant men of the ninety-ninth
Brown men tried and true

We are the heroes of the night
To hell with the Axis might
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
The Fighting Ninety-ninth

Rat-tat! Rat-tat-tat
Down in flames they go
The withering fire of the Ninety-ninth
Sends them down below

We are the heroes of the night
To hell with the Axis might
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
The Fighting Ninety-ninth

Drink up, drain your cup
To those daring men
Flying torch of flame, Oh God
Red White Blue, Amen

For, we are the heroes of the night
To hell with the Axis might
Fight! Fight! Fight! Fight!
The Fighting Ninety-ninth 

Wish I knew the melody!

      For more information about the traditional military hymns and marching songs of the U.S military branches, these links are a good start:

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