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, August 26, 2011

To Honor Tuskegee Airmen...

Here are some interesting ways that three areas of the country have honored the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The entire stretch of Interstate Highway 75 through Kentucky has been designated Tuskegee Airmen Memorial Trail by the state.  It's 191 miles from Cincinnati (OH) to Jellico (TN).

Fun Fact:
Originally, only a 23-mile stretch of the freeway in one county honored the Tuskegee Airmen when the initiative started in 2007.  The additional 168 miles were added in 2010.

The Iowa Tuskegee Airmen Memorial is located on the north side of the Des Moines International Airport.  It has a full-size fiberglass replica of a P-51D Mustang.  12 Iowans successfully completed pilot training at Tuskegee (including Joe Gomer who now lives in Minnesota and often appears at local air shows and CAF Red Tail Squadron events.)  Seven others were Tuskegee trainees who, it was felt, deserved recognition even though for one reason or another they did not complete pilot training.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron's P-51C Mustang was at the dedication.
Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer, among others, spoke at the dedication ceremony and dinner.

Fun Fact:
Iowa Tuskegee Airman Robert W. Williams wrote a manuscript about the Airmen that was used as the basis for the script of the 1995 HBO movie "The Tuskegee Airmen" starring Laurence Fishburne, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Courtney B. Vance and Andre Braugher.  The film also starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. who is one of the stars of the upcoming "Red Tails" movie which was produced by George Lucas.  A January 20, 2012 release date is planned for that movie.

This spring, 47 really big wall murals were noted in a Philadelphia (PA) art series.  [According to some sources, that city is home to as many as 3,000 murals!]  Called the Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection, the project was curated by a committee of African American scholars and leaders. One of the chosen murals is on the side of an apartment building on the University of Pennsylvania campus. It is called "Tuskegee Airmen:  They Met The Challenge" and was painted by artist Marcus Akinlana. The mural was dedicated in 2009. 

Fun Fact:
There is a 12 x 60 foot mural honoring the Tuskegee Airmen at the Palm Springs (CA) Air Museum. The mural was painted by renowned aviation artist Stan Stokes.

Air Show Note:
The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the P51-C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen will be at the Thunder In The Valley Air Show this weekend at the Waterloo (IA) Regional Airport.  As always, if you're in the area and attend this great show, stop by and say hello!

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, August 19, 2011

Point and Click Can Do The Trick

     There's something about airplanes that can stir the depths of an amateur photographer's soul.  It could be the shape of the airplane, the colors of metal and sky, the challenge of capturing speed - it doesn't matter. The love of recording all things related to airplanes with the click of a shutter just happens, and the world is often better for it because aviation is such a universal subject matter.
     Once in a while, an aviation photographer gets lucky and is able to turn his or her passion for airplanes into a job.  That's what happened to Andrew Zaback from Dover, Delaware this summer.  He was selected to be an aviation photography intern for the EAA (Experimental Aircraft Association).  This meant that instead of the day-and-a-half he spent at EAA's AirVenture Oshkosh last year, this year he was there for the whole week.  Instead of using his equipment, he got to use some top-of-the line camera gear.  And he got to take some great pictures on top of all that. 
     Andrew wandered the AirVenture site all seven days of the event, taking pictures he liked as well as those he was directed to take.  One of those he was asked to take was of the CAF Red Tail Squadron's RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit on the last day of AirVenture.  The idea was to tug the Mustang out from the side lawn where it had been parked for the whole week and position it in front of the exhibit.  It was thought this would make a great picture.  And it did, even though Andrew had to wait and wait and WAIT for a big Sea Stallion helicopter to be moved so he could get the shot.  He said, "That's kind of how it goes with photography.  Either you wait and wait for the best shot to suddenly appear or you wait and wait for something to get out of the way for a great posed shot.  Any way you look at it, patience is a requirement for any sort of photography."
    You can see how the Sea Stallion was hogging the shot here. That's its tail hovering (no pun intended) over the left side of the Mustang.  It takes a very big helicopter to make the Mustang look that small!!
Here's how the final shot turned out.  Andrew was standing on a portable 40' photography tower.

We were so impressed with the photos that Andrew took of the exhibit that I asked him to send some more of his photos so I could feature them in the blog.  During our phone conversation, I learned that he only has one more course in air traffic management to take at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach and he'll graduate this fall.  He's a licensed pilot who really, really liked flying this classic Piper J-3 Cub, the same type of airplane that Alfred "Chief" Anderson took Eleanor Roosevelt up in when she visited the Tuskegee Institute in 1941.  (Andrew took his self-portrait with a  wireless trigger.)

Andrew sent me these three photographs as samples of his work.  I think you'll agree that he absolutely knows what he's doing:
The instantly recognizable Blue Angels at their most exciting.
A night Shuttle (Discovery) launch in August, 2009 as reflected in Daytona Beach's Halifax River.
An F-16C flown by the USAF 64th Aggressor Squadron out of Nellis AFB just outside of Las Vegas.

     If you'd like to reach Andrew regarding his wonderful pictures and his photograph business, email him at   If you're interested in shooting the types of pictures he does, here's another piece of advice from him: "Be sure you know what your camera is capable of and also what it won't do.  One time, I set up a couple of cameras too close to the shuttle launch site and the blast ruined them.  That's a somewhat extreme example but I know I learned a lesson from the experience!"

NOTE:  The Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be at the Kansas City Aviation Expo Air Show at Wheeler Airport this Saturday and Sunday.  Stop by and say"hi" if you can attend - we'd love to see you.  Bring your camera and see if you can take pictures like Andrew.

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, August 12, 2011

Scenes From An Open House

     The FREE open houses to introduce the CAF Red Tail Squadron RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to the folks living in and around St. Paul and Minneapolis continues today and tomorrow. The site is Fleming Field in South St. Paul and the hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.  [For online directions, use "310 Airport Road, South St. Paul, MN 55075"]
     Yesterday was the first day of the 3-day event and set the stage for today and tomorrow.  The Minnesota Wing of the CAF opened up their WWII-era Quonset-style hangar. 
      It's quite beautiful inside with its unique wood ceiling and examples of "nose art" on the walls. Besides vintage aircraft, the old hangar houses an interesting museum, a "PX" that sells tee-shirts and other aviation-related items plus a little snack bar.

     The Wing volunteers arranged all of their available airplanes on the tarmac Many of the planes had volunteers stationed by them to help visitors climb onto the wings to peer into the cockpits.  Some lucky youngsters even got to sit in the pilot seat.

     The Squadron's own P-51C Mustang was the only airplane left in the hangar.  It is  getting an oil change and other maintenance required by the number of hours flown.  It looks a bit forlorn, doesn't it?  Not to worry - it will soon be winging off to air shows in Kansas City (Kansas City Aviation Expo on Aug. 20-21) and Waterloo, Iowa (Thunder in the Valley, August 27-28).  The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will also be going to those air shows.

     As happened when the exhibit was at AirVenture Oshkosh, visitors of all ages were anxious to register and watch the "RISE ABOVE" movie in the climate-controlled theater.
     Hearing (and seeing) the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and watching the Mustang flight sequences on that 160-degree curved screen is a thrill for all viewers.

     Three young World War II re-enactors were also at Thursday's event.  Andrew Sahli (seated) was "the German" and Matt Stone was the US soldier. 

     Tyler Befort demonstrated a rudimentary machine gun set up.  He and Matt even dug the trench by hand.

These open houses have something for just about everyone.  If you're in the mood to see something interesting and out-of-the-ordinary today or tomorrow, we hope you'll drive over to Fleming Field to see the movie and the airplanes and the hangar and the volunteers and ... well, you get the idea.

[I apologize for the odd spacing in this blog entry.  Just couldn't get everything to even out.]

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

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit Open House

The CAF Red Tail Project RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be open to the public Thursday through Saturday, August 11-13, 2011 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota.  Admission is FREE!  Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day.

To find online directions re: how to get there, use this address:  
                                  310 Airport Road, South St. Paul, MN 55075

We hope you'll come by to see the exhibit and watch the movie.  The Mustang will be there as well - great photo op!

We're so excited to share this wonderful (and fun) new educational tool with those who live in and around the Twin Cities.  Hope to see you there (and tell your friends)!

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, August 5, 2011

The Mustang's Prototype

     When I was at AirVenture Oshkosh, I had the pleasure of accompanying Tuskegee Airman USAF Col. (ret) Charles E. McGee to the Ford Hangar (really a huge tent...) one afternoon so he could do a "meet-and-greet" and sign autographs (see last week's blog)..  This hour-long event was sponsored by automaker Ford/Lincoln.     
     I hung around for the hour that Col. McGee was there in case I needed to run back to the CAF Red Tail Squadron's RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit for supplies, etc. so I had time to look at the Lincoln Legends and Heroes graphics hanging on the front of the Hangar.  It was a dual timeline of sorts - a series of pictures touting the high points of aviation by year on top and high points of Lincoln automotive design and features on the bottom.  This picture will give you an idea of what it looked like:

     All of the pictures chosen for the dual timeline were interesting, but my eyes were immediately drawn to one in particular - that of the NA-73X, the P-51 Mustang's prototype. In 1940, North American Aviation (NAA) approached the British with the idea for a new fighter that would replace the P-40.  They promised a flying prototype in just 120 days (and they made it!).  The design of the new airplane, known as the NA-73X, had a number of innovations.  Three that would directly affect performance were:
  1. The wing was a low drag laminar airfoil which meant that the thickest part of the wing, which is usually about 20-25% back from the leading edge, is moved back to about 50 %.  Also, the wing top and bottom are mirror images.
  2. The radiator was housed under the fuselage and had its own intake scoop.
  3. The landing gear was set wide under the wings and folded inward. 
     Considering the design and testing of this new airplane was done by hand (the design) and with heart (the flight tests must have been white knuckle to start - recall the new wing design and placement of the radiator), the airplane was quickly deemed to be a success.   

 The British placed an order for 320 of the new fighters, now known as "Mustangs," and the rest is history.

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