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, December 30, 2011

A Brief 2011 Retrospective

     As the end of the year approaches, we humans have a tendency to look back at what happened to us and to our world during the previous 12 months.  My personal favorites are the news media’s pictorials that graphically – and I mean that in the often literal sense as well as figuratively - tell the story of the year’s major events as well often providing snapshots of everyday life around the globe. 
     The CAF Red Tail Squadron had quite a year and we have the pictures to prove it - I’ll provide some links at the end of the column if you’d like to look at them.  However, right now I’d like to review the Squadron’s major 2012 events and give some fun stats.
     In February, we began working on a complete revamp of the website –
     In April, the TexasFlying Legends Museum stepped up to sponsor the development of the Squadron’s new traveling exhibit. The goal was to have it ready by EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, WI at the end of July.
     We officially changed our name from the “Red Tail Project” to the “CAF Red Tail Squadron” in June. 
     On July 25th, the new RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit was formally introduced to the public at AirVenture.  The curved IMAX-type screen and the “Rise Above” movie were big hits as was the fact that the exhibit was free.
     Including that July introduction and going through the middle of November, the Traveling Exhibit appeared at 16 venues, including 13 air shows.  Total attendance at those shows was more than 1.4 million. The red-tailed P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen” also appeared at most of the air shows with the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and often flew during the air shows’ performance segments.  At many venues, the Mustang gave rides – that back-seat stick experience is a winner!
     What really pleases the Squadron team is that the Traveling Exhibit also did exactly what we planned for it to do – it went off-tarmac prior to the air show weekends and visited 14 school districts and one youth group site. In fact there were only two weeks during that time that the Traveling Exhibit was not set up at a school or youth group prior to the air show so young people could experience it.  3,984 youngsters registered to see the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit from August through mid-November. Each one of them received a free dog tag to help them remember the day they were introduced to the story and life lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen.
     In December, the Squadron was presented with the Special Achievement Award at the ICAS (International Council of Air Shows) Convention in Las Vegas.  This award is given to a person or group that makes a significant contribution to the air show industry. A number of the team members were at the show and were thrilled to be able to receive this unexpected honor in person.
     Also in December, the Mustang's crew chief, John Beyl was featured in the Commemorative Air Force's online publication, Dispatch. He did a great job of talking about what it took to keep the 70-year-old war bird running and gave well-deserved kudos to the whole maintenance team.  Since the Squadron's entire "Red Tail" identity started with the restoration of the P-51C Mustang and the plan to make the airplane an educational tool, somehow it seemed fitting that our  year of new beginnings (website, name, traveling exhibit, award) ended with recognition of the team that works so hard to keep her flying.

     Now, about those pictures.  We have put a number of publicly accessible photo albums out on Picasa.  Just sign in and search for “caf red tail squadron”.  You’ll be taken right to the page with all of the albums – click and enjoy.
     Finally, we hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend with lots of fun, food (and football?).  Happy New Year!

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, December 23, 2011

The Pre-Christmas Edition

     The CAF Red Tail Squadron hangar is only about seven miles from the  shopping mecca known as the Mall of America (MOA).  This time of year, the Mall (a.k.a. “The Sprawl of America” because it is so large and spread out) is beautifully decorated in a holiday theme.  Of course, every other mall around the country is also decorated and holiday music floats out of their sound systems, too.  The thinking is that getting shoppers in a holiday mood will cause them to open their wallets more easily.  Having all of that psychology starting to kick in before Halloween kind of dilutes the impact in December, but it’s not my call.
     Anyway, 30-40 MILLION people visit MOA each year.  (It seems like at least half of them visit on the one day a year I trek out there to buy filler pages for my Franklin planner!)  An impressive percentage of those visitors are from outside the U.S. and, since the Mall opened 20 years ago, shoppers from Japan have consistently made up a large portion of that group.  It is a destination trip for them.  Many bring empty suitcases (or purchase them here) and fill them up with jeans and other items that are more expensive at home.
     I found it intriguing that Narita Airport, which serves Tokyo, decorates for Christmas so I did a little research.  Although it is estimated that less than 3% of the Japanese population follows a Christian religion, many Japanese observe Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and western style weddings with white dresses, veils, tuxedos and all the trimmings are very popular.  That would certainly explain why these two departure lobbies at Narita have such a western-style “look” to their decorations.   The decorations are up from mid-November through Christmas Day.

Fun Fact:
     Remember that song “Up On The Housetop” about Santa landing his reindeer on the roof?  (I KNOW you remember and now I've probably started an earworm in the key of C:  Up on the housetop reindeer paws...) There’s a line in the song that goes “Up on the housetop, click, click, click/Down through the chimney with old Saint Nick.”  If you’ve ever wondered about that “click, click, click” part, it turns out that reindeer have tendons that “click” when they walk so they can keep track of each other in the snowy wild so of course their feet would click when they land on a rooftop!

     With that being said, on behalf of the entire CAF Red Tail Squadron team, I want to wish all of our readers a very Merry Christmas.

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, December 16, 2011

A Four-Dotter

Today is a “four-dot” blog.  That means there is no “theme” – just some thoughts and links, separated by ●●●●”

     A former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Bruce Cole, was quoted in the December 9 Wall Street Journal:  “Today’s most widely used textbooks…are diluted, dull, and politically correct.  They fail to inspire students with a sense of wonder.”
     I remember waaaay back in my high school days and how none of my textbooks inspired me “with a sense of wonder.”  It’s too bad that hasn’t changed in 45 years. I wonder (no pun intended) how the much-touted test scores would improve if the textbooks did make history (and other subjects) interesting as well as informative.  The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit makes an important part of World War II history come alive.  The rig is sitting in a parking lot now, waiting to go on the road again in 2012.


The Winter 2012 “Red Tail Mail” newsletter is now available online.  Click this link to read it. 

You heard it here first – the Squadron is going to list some of its eStore items for sale on eBay at substantial discounts!  Details will be posted on the blog later today.


When the crew is working on Mustang maintenance, they use the blueprints and manuals originally printed by North American Aviation in the 1940s.


If God wanted us to fly, He would have given us tickets.  — Mel Brooks

If God had meant Icarus to fly, She would have given him a cloudy day. — Leon M. Wise

If God had really intended men to fly, He'd make it easier to get to the airport. — George Winters

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, December 9, 2011

Hangin' At The Hangar

     When my dad was working on his Thorp T-18 homebuilt in the early 1960s, he started building it in the basement.  In a poetic sense, this was appropriate because he had also built that basement (and then the rest of the house) about 13 years before. As the project progressed and the components threatened to become too large to get up the (skinny) stairs and out the (skinnier) door, he moved everything to a rented hangar at the Lake Elmo Airport just east of St. Paul.
     That rented hangar became his private haven.  He could work there in the evenings and on weekends, just yards away from the runways and the sounds of aircraft heading out and returning.  Sometimes he succumbed to the call of the skies and rented a plane to take a quick flight for fun.
     I was about 14 at the time and I remember that it was a BIG DEAL to be allowed to accompany him on the short drive to the airport and hang out.  I wasn’t allowed to work on the plane – too many sharp edges, Dad said - but on those rare occasions I tagged along, I, too, felt the allure of being in a hangar at the airport even though that one was pretty generic looking.  It reminded me of a pole barn with a lower ceiling and a larger sliding door.
     As my parents’ marriage fell apart, Dad spent less and less time at the Lake Elmo hangar and ended up selling the mostly-completed airplane to a friend who finished it and put it in the air.  I like to think Dad did get a ride in it at some point, but memory doesn’t always serve and he’s not here to ask.  
     I hadn’t been to a hangar in decades when my son, Scott, decided to join the Army to fly helicopters.  I saw the outside of the big training hangars at Fort Rucker near Enterprise Alabama when we were there to watch Dad pin Scott’s wings on him in 1992. When Scott’s unit deployed to Iraq for the 2nd time, the farewell (and the blessed welcome home) ceremony took place at the big Army National Guard hangar at Holman Airport in St. Paul.  Like the hangars at Fort Rucker, that hangar is so big it has offices in it, almost as though housing Black Hawks was an afterthought. It is almost clinical with its cement block walls and amazingly clean floors.
     I joined the Red Tail Project in 2006 as a volunteer writer and soon came to love the old hangar that houses the CAF’s Minnesota Wing.  It was built in 1941 and is a classic round-roofed Quonset style with a gigantic door facing the tarmac.  The roof is metal, but the entire interior ceiling is covered in dark aged wood.  On the days when the B-25 “Miss Mitchell,” the Squadron’s rare P-51C Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen,” the AT-6 Texan (a.k.a the “Harvard”), Vultee B-13 Valiant and Ryan PT-29 Recruit trainers, and the little Stinsen Sentinel are all jigsaw-puzzled inside, you could swear you’re back in the early 1940s.  It also has a little museum and gift shop plus some offices.
     To give you a sense of what the hangar looks like, here’s a print that’s available for purchase at the Squadron’s online store that captures it very well. 
  Here’s a link to a fuller description of the print, which contains the inspiring quote from Minnesota Tuskegee Airman USAF Major (ret.) Joe Gomer.  This print is truly unique and is priced at only $35.00.  If you have anyone on your holiday shopping list who is interested in the Tuskegee Airmen, Mustangs, old hangars or aviation in general, it would make a great gift.
     Of course, our online store sells more than art prints. Take a look at what we have and save yourself some time by shopping online with us this holiday season.  All proceeds benefit the Squadron’s mission of educating people about the power of perseverance and goal setting through the example of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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, December 2, 2011

ICAS Convention

     The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) will open its 44th annual Convention on Sunday in Las Vegas.  More than 1,340 people are already registered and ICAS believes another 200-250 will register onsite.
     The ICAS Convention is a combination of education and networking.  The education part includes more than 60 hour-long presentations focused on aspects of air show management.  There will also be a few longer presentations on topics like Air/Ground Operations Training. The networking takes place all over the site, but the exhibit hall is a hot spot because air show acts and companies that offer services to help air shows succeed have their booths there. ICAS is also where the military flight teams like the Blue Angels announce their next year’s schedule which really gets the buzz going.
     A delegation of six people from the CAF Red Tail Squadron team will attend this year’s ICAS Convention and the Squadron will have a booth in the exhibit hall close by the Commemorative Air Force’s.  The Squadron team anticipates speaking with many air show directors from around the country about the prospect of bringing the red-tailed P51-C Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to their shows.
     Our air show coordinator, Marvona Welsh, will be one of those attending on behalf of the Squadron. This will be her ninth ICAS; the previous eight she attended as part of her job coordinating appearances of two B-25s for the Disabled American Veterans organization. 
     Marvona will also be presenting an hour-long seminar on volunteer management, something she has done for seven years.  She really knows her stuff and is happy to share her experience with others.  She said, “The educational aspect of the ICAS Convention is really important.  The presentations are designed to help the air show community put on the best shows possible. This year, attendees can hear speakers on topics like how to create online tickets, how to prepare the airfield for the show (don’t forget to water any grass early and often if you’re going to have pyrotechnics so no stray sparks can start a fire!), using social media to publicize the show, and so forth.  The presentations are varied and interesting and very well-attended.”
     While we can’t guarantee that we’ll have a full schedule of appearances for the Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit nailed down by next Wednesday when ICAS ends, we’ll certainly know more then than we do now!  We can’t wait to share the Squadron’s 2012 air show schedule with you and will do so as soon as possible.
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