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, October 19, 2012

The Air Boss


     If you enjoy air shows, you know the drill:  As the clock inches toward show time, folks find a good spot to sit and settle down well before the airplanes start flying.  Cameras are readied, sunglasses and hats put firmly in place, and heads prepare to swivel.  The announcer revs folks up with his pre-show patter and then the airplanes start flying – one after another with minimal time between acts.
     At every air show the Squadron’s Mustang flies in – in fact, EVERY air show – there is one person who coordinates the performers’ flights from tow to taxi to take off to flight to landing to taxi to tow. That person is appropriately named the “Air Boss.”  He is in control of all flying activities from the time the show starts until it ends.  He also briefs the show’s participants prior to the show.
     Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University/Daytona Beach put on a free air show this past weekend.  “Free” was, of course, excellent, but what made the show extra interesting was that the airplanes – including the USAF Thunderbirds and Canadian AF Snowbirds – performed over the ocean, along the famed beach.  There was no tower or runway – all performers took off from remote airports and approached either stealthily over the tall beachside hotels (the coolest…) or in a big swoop north or south of the beach.
     Four of us hauled lawn chairs and coolers to the beach on Saturday and parked ourselves on the northern end of the air space.   
Waiting for the next performer
Looking south. Many air show fans rented umbrellas but lots just made do with hats and sunscreen.
     By the time the show was over, sandwiches and pop were gone, the tide was rapidly coming in, we were either beautifully tanned or painfully sunburned, and the adrenaline was still pumping after watching airplane after airplane do its thing for more than four hours.
     The Air Boss for the show was Wayne Boggs.  I had interviewed him before the show to find out a bit more about what that role does and then sought him out during the show to take his picture.  As I watched him work perched high above the crowds in front of the big Hilton, it was easy to see why most air bosses have a long history working in air traffic control.  

      Wayne was in constant contact with the performers and airport control tower(s) during the entire show.  In effect, he was managing the show “blind”.   There were no runways in front of him so he could see what prep was going on and how the airplanes were lined up for taxi position; he had to rely totally on voice communication to get information about how the airplanes were taking off from their airports and what was going on during the flight from there to the beach and back.   In fact, as I watched, he rarely looked up at the performers; he needed to concentrate on what he was hearing on his headset so looked down and away.
     Wayne has been an air boss for more than 20 years and still finds it tremendously rewarding and fun.  He said, “My mother was a WASP during World War II and taught pilots to fly at Embry-Riddle. My dad was in the Air Force and we moved from base to base.  I loved the airplanes, particularly the airplanes from the 40s through the 60s.  Most shows I work have at least a couple of those older airplanes and they rightly get a lot of attention.
     “I also enjoy flying my own airplane. My mother taught using a 1942 Fairchild PT-19.  I found one for sale in Massachusetts in 1983.  It was in a “basement” that was actually pretty open to the weather.  The owner had bought it, towed it home from the airport and stuffed it under his house, putting walls around it after the fact.  It sat there for 20 years. We bought this basket case, had it hauled back to Chicago on a flatbed and the whole family worked on its restoration.”
Photo courtesy Wayne Boggs
      As an air boss, Wayne often choreographs the performances, designs the schedule and then controls the actual show on the big day(s).  When it comes to controlling the show, one major task is ensuring that all participants are up to speed with the latest regulations from the FAA and others.  “I do my best, but we all really work as a team to spread the word,” he said. “This job is all about communication with so many great people at so many levels and about so many topics. I’m having a blast doing it.”
     If you’re interested, here is a link to more than 1,600 amateur photos of the ERUA air show as compiled by the Daytona News-Journal.  Lots of pics by lots of talented people.

The Mustang and Traveling Exhibit are sitting this weekend out before heading south to Houston next weekend.

Countdown to the election: 19 days

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 redtail.org.

www.redtail.org

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