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.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Change Is A'Coming

Starting at 10:30 (CDT) tomorrow morning (July 1), this blog will have a new URL that reflects our new name - the CAF Red  Tail Squadron.  The old URL for the CAF Red Tail PROJECT will go away.  

We hope you'll note this change, bookmark the blog, and continue to read the Friday entries.  See you tomorrow!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron Team

Friday, June 24, 2011

This 'n That

This week's blog is a grab bag of thoughts and announcements.  We'll get back on track next Friday with a feature about a very special Stearman biplane.

     1. The name change -  As you can imagine, the name change from Red Tail Project to Red Tail Squadron has meant a lot of updates and adaptations wherever the name appears online and on paper.  Here are three announcements about our online social media presence:

  • We have closed out the old Facebook page.  Search for the CAF Red Tail Squadron and be sure to "friend" us on the new page!  That page is updated regularly with great stuff like photos and videos, and the "conversation" is always interesting.
  • The URL for the blog will change on July 1.  Unfortunately, our fans will have to find us and rebookmark the site but, on the bright side, the old posts will remain.

  • The existing Twitter account will be closed and reopened under the CAF Red Tail Squadron name on July 1 as well. 
      2. RISE ABOVE, The Movie - Editing work continues on the new "RISE ABOVE" movie which will be shown in the CAF Red Tail Squadron RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit that is set to debut at AirVenture in Oshkosh (WI) which will be held July 25-31.  For a fun 1:20 minute preview that shows a scene where Tuskegee Airman Charles E. McGee and three children watch the Mustang fire up, click here.  It's interesting to watch Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Adam White in action!
     3. Col. McGee - Speaking of Col. McGee, in just three weeks he'll be enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame.  He will be introduced by former astronaut and fellow aviator Frank Borman.
      4. Miss Mitchell - The CAF Red Tail Squadron's Mustang Tuskegee Airmen  is hangared at the CAF's Minnesota Wing's hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul.  One of its "hangar-mates" is the Wing's B-25 bomber, Miss Mitchell.  This beautifully restored airplane was all set for a summer of air show appearances when one of her fairly new engines failed to the point where a new one must be purchased.  Donations are being accepted toward that goal. For more about the engine and to donate, click here.   For a photo essay about Miss Mitchell by aviation photographer Max Haynes, click here

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

Friday, June 17, 2011

"Liberty Belle"

     America's small cache of flying vintage warbird aircraft took a hit on Monday when the B-17 Flying Fortress Liberty Belle had to make an emergency landing onto an Illinois field (the plowed kind, not the "air" kind) after a fire was spotted in one of her four engines.  

     Unfortunately, because of recent rainfall, the cornfield onto which the pilot expertly put her down was too soft for the heavy firefighting vehicles to traverse.  After exiting the airplane, seven crew and passengers had to watch helplessly as a smallish fire in a single engine turned into a huge fire that consumed the rest of the airplane.  How hard it must have been to accept that those who had the means to help save the airplane couldn't get to her.  Click here for a video of the aftermath.
     Vintage aircraft are expertly maintained by people who not only take pride in their work but love the old birds to boot.  They have to study and be certified to work on the airplanes.  They give up hours of free time to crawl into and around spaces a two-year-old would have trouble fitting into (and getting out of). They get greasy, dirty and sometimes get cuts, bruises and burns.  They become frustrated when the airplane's mechanicals act their age - much as a parent does with a tired, fretful child - but always work through the problem.  And they grin like fools when their multiple-ton baby's engines fire up and it taxis and takes off, thrilling anyone who witnesses its steady climb into the heavens.
     Liberty Belle was just in the Twin Cities area (home of the CAF Red Tail Squadron) on June 5-6. Click here for a short photo essay from the Minneapolis Star Tribune about that visit.
     Given that the crash just happened on Monday, the Liberty Foundation, based in Tulsa, understandably hasn't decided if they'll rebuild Liberty Belle. With 60+ combat missions during World War II and countless rides given in her most recent iteration as a part of flying history, she has maybe earned the right to rest. But many thousand warbird fans hope they'll again see her sail majestically overhead with four healthy engines and crewmembers grinning like fools.

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

What's In A Name?

     As you may have noticed, this blog has a new profile logo and description that refers to the CAF Red Tail Squadron.  We changed our name last week, but the rollout has been slow and deliberate.  In fact, this is the only one of our online presences that has the new name.  Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn will follow soon and our new website should rollout by the end of the month.  It's a busy time.
     I've  kept the blog's URL as it's always been - redtailproject - but, at some point, it will change. I'll let you know before that happens so you can rebookmark us and continue to follow the blog.
     The word "Squadron" in the context of our new name isn't really aviation-related although that's probably the most common usage of the word, particularly when discussing wartime fighting units.  The use of "Squadron" in our name is a way to indicate that the building we've been doing is done - there is no more "Project."  The airplane is flying and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is on track to be on the road in July.  The new name reflects that there is a group of people - a squadron - who all support the same thing: sharing the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen with other individuals - especially students - across the country.  These squadron members donate money, shop at the online store, follow us on social media, attend air shows where we have a presence, work on the airplane or volunteer with the CAF Red Tail team.  
     Of course, the Tuskegee Airmen were organized into real squadrons during World War II.  There were four "Fighting Squadrons" (FS) - the 99th, the 100th, the 301st and the 302nd.   They were eventually all brought together under the 332nd Fighter Group (FG).  The 99th fought in Africa before being reassigned to Sicily/Italy to join the other three FS, which had been assigned there right off the bat.
     There were also Service Squadrons - the 366th and 367th - which were assigned to the 96th Air Service Group. The members of these squadrons didn't fly.  Instead, they supported the pilots as mechanics, armament specialists, etc.  That's similar to how the CAF Red Tail Project has always been set up - only a few are qualified to fly the airplane while everyone else supports them and the educational mission.  The new name - CAF Red Tail Squadron - is a good fit.
     Our beautiful P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen is painted to reflect the four FS:
*  The red and yellow striped cowling represents the 302nd Fighter Squadron.
*  The A on the side represents the 99th Fighter Squadron.
*  The yellow banding on the wings represents the 301st Fighter Squadron.
*  The red fins on the wings represents the 100th Fighter Squadron.

                                                                                           photo by Max Haynes

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

Friday, June 3, 2011

All The News That's Fit To Print (In German)

     Since this coming Monday is the 67th anniversary of D-Day, I got to thinking not only of the brave young men who went ashore in France on June 6, 1944, but the Germans soldiers who were captured that day and over the following 11 months as the Allied forces advanced toward and into Germany.  What happened to them and other Axis soldiers when they became prisoners of war?
     Not surprisingly, there is quite a bit of information online about POWs the Allies captured during World War II so I decided to narrow my investigation to the role that Minnesota - home base for the CAF Red Tail - played in managing POWs who were shipped to America.
     There were 20 POW camps set up across Minnesota.  Most were "branch" camps administered by Camp Algona in Iowa. Trusted inmates eventually worked for a small hourly wage either in town or in the fields.  During downtime, they entertained themselves with music, reading and card games. One of the biggest events in the Algona camp system was the introduction of a newspaper in 1944. It was compiled at Camp Algona but often had stories about the branch camps. 
     Written in German, many issues of Die Drahtpost ("the wire post office" (i.e. where news was sent to a central site via telegraph)) were translated into English after the war and archived.  Written by the inmates, each issue contained  summaries of world news and war developments (gleaned from the local English newspapers), essays and short stories, reports from the stage and soccer field, poems, and crossword puzzles.  Paper was scarce so each issue was treated with care so everyone had a chance to read it.  Editorial content was very much pro-German with a subtle yet hopeful message that the Germans could still win the war. 
     When the war in Europe ended, Die Drahtpost was retired and replaced with Die Lagerzeitung ("camp newspaper") which focused more on the future.  Most POWs would not return home for years after the war and stories and articles in Die Lagerzeitung helped them accept that fact. In fact, of the almost 400,000 German POWs in the U.S. as of May 1945, only a 100,000 were returned to Germany by summer 1946. The others languished in French coal mines or land-mine-clearing crews and on English farms until late 1948.  They worked side-by-side with the locals all day but at night were still very much prisoners living behind barbed wire and watch towers.
     30 Tuskegee Airmen were held as POWs in Germany after being shot down during World War II.  While it was not a pleasant way to spend the rest of the war, after they were released, many Airmen reported that the Germans had treated them decently for two reasons:  the Germans knew who the "red-tail" pilots were and had respect for their piloting skills and the Germans were not prejudiced against people with black skin.  
     After the war was over, the Tuskegee Airmen who had been POWs returned to the U.S.  When they got off the ship, they saw signs that said "White Only" and "Black Only" on drinking fountains and bathroom doors.  They appreciated the irony that they had been treated more equitably by the enemy than they would be by their countrymen - for whom they had fought - now that they were home again

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