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 27, 2012


     I don’t know if I just hang out with major risk-takers so I can live vicariously through them, but a high percentage of my friends have either parachuted out of an airplane for fun or indicated a strong interest in doing so at some point.  As I get older, this option for personal adventure has faded into the background (not so white water rafting…) but I remain envious of those who have tried it. 
     This week marked the 93rd anniversary of the first parachute jump with the chute deployed by a ripcord.  The inventor was also the tester, which makes sense when you think about it. Leslie L. “Skyhigh” Irvin was in control and remained in free fall until he decided to pull the cord and open the chute.  Prior to this historic jump in 1919 over McCook Field in Ohio, a parachute was deployed in many different ways, including holding the parachute and tossing it up while falling down (balloonist) and later, having a device on the airplane itself pull the cord as the parachutist exited.
     The parachute continued to be refined, including the changing the canopy material from silk to nylon in 1941. There were two main versions of chutes used by U.S. pilots in World War II – the backpack and the seat pack. The research I’ve done indicates that a large number – if not all – of the Tuskegee-trained pilots used the seat pack chute.  That was positioned over their Mae West flotation vest packet.  Sitting on those two items seems like it would have been pretty uncomfortable, but a backpack chute would also have put pressure on the back.  What with the cold thin air of the high altitudes, the long flights, the uncomfortable seats, things poking into various body parts that couldn’t really be rearranged, and the constant threat of dying, there were no wimpy pilots.       
     Here is a picture of Tuskegee Airman Captain Ed Gleed standing in front of his P-51D (full glass canopy) Mustang. This was taken by woman photographer Toni Frissell and is part of the Library of Congress collection.  Gleed is in full pilot gear.  He’s holding his oxygen mask in his right hand and you can just see the corner of his seat pack parachute and Mae West vest packet sticking out behind his right forearm.  Note the tape over the Mustang’s guns to keep out rain and dirt.

Where are we this weekend?
The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at the FREE (love that!) Robins Air Force Base Air Show in Warner Robins, GA.  Brad Lang, the Squadron leader, is this week’s pilot.  He lived in Warner Robins for two years in the mid-80s and was looking forward to being back there for a couple of days, talking to folks about 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, April 20, 2012

The Squadron At Moton Field, The Place It All Began

     Yesterday afternoon, the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s Mustang fighter landed at Moton Airfield in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Of all of the stops the Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will make on the 2012 schedule, this one will most likely win the “Golden Propeller” award (totally fictional…) for the “cool” factor because Moton Airfield is where every pilot who would become part of the group known as the Tuskegee Airmen first trained to fly. 
     70 years ago last month, the first class of five pilots graduated from Tuskegee.  They had done countless “touch-and-go” landings in biplanes and other trainers during their primary training at Moton and ended their World War II service flying the powerful, agile Mustangs in the skies over Europe.  They had flight instructors at Moton; they had to train themselves to fly Mustangs because in Italy there were no flight instructors.
     A section of Moton Field is incorporated into the National Park Service’s Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. The Park Service established the Site in 1998 and opened a temporary Visitors Center in 2002.  Six years and $29 million later, the Site held its grand opening.  Visitors can see a short video and look at exhibits, including some trainers, in the restored Hangar 1.
     Tomorrow and Sunday, visitors can see that AND the Mustang before or after visiting the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.  Hours are 9-4 tomorrow and 9-1 on Sunday.  Everything is free, including admission to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, so if you’re close by, or know someone who is, we encourage everyone to come see this historic blending of history in Tuskegee, Alabama.
     Here’s a picture of Hangar 1 as restored for the National Historic Site.  

      This picture is by travel blogger Steve Alpert and shows the back of Hangar 1, the front of Hangar 2 (not open to the public at this point) and the top of the original control tower (behind Hangar 2).

     Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit was set up at Booker T. Washington High School in Tuskegee, and Terry and Jeanette Hollis hosted numerous groups of student.  Here’s a great shot of some of these kids in front of the Traveling Exhibit.  Each youngster received a free “RISE ABOVE” inspirational dog tag.

       This is another example of how the CAF Red Tail Squadron is continually working toward its goal of bringing the story of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America.   It’s great to have our Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit be part of weekend air shows and other special events.  However, where the “rubber meets the road” is taking the Traveling Exhibit to young people so they can hear about and learn from the enduring example of the Tuskegee Airmen.

     As a 501c3 charitable organization, the CAF Red Tail Squadron is dependent on donations and the kindness of strangers.  The latter came into play big-time this week when Golden Eagle Aviation FBO stepped up and agreed to house the Mustang and put the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit on their property.  Our thanks to them for their generosity and genuine excitement at having us there.
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, April 13, 2012

Donald Duck As Warrior

     Like many kids who are now of a certain age, I grew up watching all of the Disney TV shows and everything else that Disney’s Buena Vista studios put out.  I still have a few tickets from my first visit to Disneyland in 1958 (the rides used to have a “value” and require a certain ticket type).   I wore out my  Dumbo plush toy (even early on, I understood that aviation can positively affect a diverse population, even baby elephants!). You get the idea.
     “True Life Adventures” and other “real” reels produced by the Disney teams were great, but I really, really loved the animation.  Still do even though most animation is now created using computers and released through Pixar.  The Disney animators were so talented, both in their story telling and their art.  They were also patriotic.  Starting in 1933 and going through World War II, they designed – for free - more than 1,200 unit insignia for the US military as well as for some of the Allies.  Many designs were based on familiar Disney cartoon characters, but they also created 90 new cats and 50 dogs as well as apes, owls, spiders, octopi, roosters, and storks.  Interestingly, the units were allowed to deal directly with the Disney studios and didn’t have to go “through channels” to request an insignia design.
An example of a non-traditional Disney cartoon character created for a unit insignia - the 452 Bomb Squadron 2
     Because of his quick temper and inability to back down from a challenge, Donald Duke ruled the roost with at least 216 insignia using his face or entire image.  
531 Bomb Squadron Emblem

     Mickey was featured in 37 designs but none for combat units since he wasn’t a scrapper. Instead, he was used in home front initiatives like medical and defense industries. 
      Bambi was the only Disney cartoon figure to never appear in an insignia design.
     I particularly like the more obscure, older animated cartoons, a favorite being “The Reluctant Dragon,” about a dragon with floppy ears who would rather drink tea and recite poetry than fight the knight.  I can still recall his poem about an upside down cake:
     Poor little upside down cake
       Troubles, you have got ‘em
          Because little upside down cake
             Your top is on your bottom.

     Given his peaceable nature, you wouldn’t think the dragon would be a candidate for the war effort but here he is in all  his glory, dropping bombs away.

     Here’s a link to a good representation of the Disney insignias.  See if you can find the St. Bernard watchdog “Nana” from "Peter Pan" (hint: she’s flying…).

Goin' To Tuskegee
Next week, the Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are going to where it all began - Tuskegee, Alabama.  The Traveling Exhibit is scheduled to do school visits during the week and then both it and the Mustang will be open to the public at Moton Field, very near to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, on the weekend.   Entry to our exhibits is always free as is admission to the National Historic Site.  We're expecting good crowds and are so excited to bring the Mustang to the airfield where the Tuskegee Airmen trained to fly.

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, April 6, 2012

FOD – Foreign Object Debris

[The “special language” – i.e. acronymns – used by the military and the aviation industry has always fascinated me.  My son the helicopter pilot can speak whole sentences using nothing but the first initials of words and phrases (with a conjunction thrown in here and there for clarity). Today is the first of a random blog series that focuses on a single acronym and explains what it is and why it matters. For those of you who use these regularly, if I goof  feel free to comment and correct so we all continue to learn.]

     In the field of aviation, it’s accepted that a safe takeoff must be followed by an equally safe landing for a flight to be considered successful.  Equipment, pilot skill, and weather are all factors in this concept. Another input is the condition of the runway.  Since few runways are privately owned, most flying is done out of airports. Walking the runway is not typically included in the pilot’s pre-flight walk around of the airplane, so pilots must assume that the airport has ensured that the runway surface is solid and well-marked from beginning to end. 
     The runway also needs to be clean and sometimes this can be a crapshoot.  Certainly when a runway is covered in two feet of volcanic ash (see last week’s blog), everyone is aware of it.  But what about the stray piece of anything that falls off of an airplane that previously used the runway?  Certainly the most famous incident of that nature in this century (so far) was the piece of metal on the runway that Air France 4590 hit as it took off out of Paris’ Charles DeGaulle airport in July 2000.  It punctured a tire and the resulting debris caused a quick series of incidents that ultimately brought down the airplane – a Concorde SST - and killed more than 100 people, including some on the ground.
     The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs American airports and they have published a boatload of information regarding the management of Foreign Object Debris (FOD). What I’ve been reading has really opened my eye to the fact that a lot more items can be considered FOD than what I had thought and that more areas than the actual runway can be affected by FOD.  Besides whatever can fall off of an airplane, tools, catering supplies, luggage parts, pens and pencils (!), chunks of concrete and asphalt, paint chips (!!), construction materials, miscellaneous plastics, snow and ice, and “natural material” – plants and wildlife – can become FOD.  Speaking of wildlife as FOD, I’d be curious to know if the flock of geese that flew into the engines of US Airways 1549 are considered to be gravitationally-challenged FOD!
     Related (sort of) to the Miracle on the Hudson, there’s another interesting story of a water ditching of a Pan Am (for you youngsters, that’s short for Pan American Airlines – the former premier international carrier) 4-engine Boeing Stratocruiser into the Pacific between Hawaii and San Francisco in 1956. Read about it here.   

Tour Update
So where are the Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit going to be next week?  That would be the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, NC from Wednesday, the 11th through Saturday, the 14th.  Read more here.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron wishes everyone who will be celebrating a religious holiday this weekend a happy Easter and a sweet Passover.

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