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, June 29, 2012

What Happens To Old Airplanes

     As big/fast airplanes become obsolete, they are typically just parked somewhere.  The lucky ones get a second life like the last DC-7 produced which is being turned into a restaurant in Florida. It was built in 1956 and retired in 2006 after flying 33,000 hours. After 50 years of service, it has earned the rest(aurant), I guess.
     One of the best-known “boneyards” of retired aircraft is at Davis-Monthan AFB in Tucson, Ariz. Having lived in Tucson, albeit decades ago, I can vouch for the “Wow” factor of seeing acres of military and civilian aircraft – including helicopters - just sitting there in the Sonoran desert heat. It’s the dry air and dense desert sand that makes storing old aircraft in the Southwest so practical.  Besides military aircraft, Davis-Monthan also stores aircraft for other federal agencies, including more than 10 of NASA’s aerospace vehicles.  They even have the “control car”of a non-rigid Navy airship that was operated in the late 1950s (see the June 15th blog for more about the Navy’s airship program.)
     Other airports/air bases that store older aircraft are in California, Nevada and Texas 
     Some of the aircraft at Davis-Monthan are so well preserved that it seems like they could be in queue for take off in just a matter of days. Others are missing parts, which just makes them look even more derelict. 
A T-33 Shooting Star in front of a B-47 Stratojet bide their time at Davis-Monthan AFB
     The USAF’s 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group is charged with looking after more than 4,000 aircraft.  AMARG does restoration - actually making airplanes fly again - and parts reclamation besides its storage and disposal responsibilities. I wonder what they would have thought about attempting the restoration of the Squadron’s P-51C after it crashed in 2004?   
The late Gerry Beck looks over the Squadron's Mustang after it was trucked to his company, Tri-State Aviation in 2004 after crashing at an air show in May of that year.
      It is quite amazing that a group of volunteers raised the hundreds of thousands of dollars required to rebuild it while at the same time, many of those same volunteers spent dozens of weekends at the restoration company, Tri-State Aviation, in North Dakota riveting, stringing miles of wiring, sanding, etc.  
      In 2009, when the restored and flying Mustang was introduced to the public at EAA AirVenture, it won the Phoenix Award. 
A recent photo of the Mustang, taken when it made its historic visit to Tuskegee this spring.
      The next AirVenture will be held July 23-29, just a few weeks from now.  The Tuskegee Airmen will be honored twice during that time – on Wednesday, the 25th as part of “Greatest Generation In The Air Day” and on Friday, the 27th, as part of “Salute To Veterans Day.”  The Squadron's RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang will both be there for the entire event. (By the way, if you go to the AirVenture website, guess whose Mustang is the featured aircraft for the July 25th event list?)

Hello, Angola!
The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang will be at the Tri-State Airport Balloon Fest in Angola, Indiana on July 7-8.   

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 22, 2012

The Montford Point Marines

     Next week the Montford Point Marines will receive, as a group, the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, DC.  This honor recognizes their contributions - as the first black recruits of the U.S. Marine Corps -  to the World War II war effort.   
The front (or "obverse") of the Montford Point Marines Congressional Gold Medal
     The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian honor awarded to an individual or group because of their service to the country. The Continental Congress awarded the first one to George Washington in 1776.
     Although Congress approved this Medal in November of last year, the ceremony is just coming up.  [This delay is not unusual – the Tuskegee Airmen’s Medal was approved in April 2006 but the award ceremony didn’t take place in Washington DC until the following March.]
     The Montford Point Marines got their name because they all trained at Montford Point Camp, a segregated facility just outside the iconic Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The Camp was one of three that served as a Marine boot camp during WWII, along with Parris Island and San Diego. It was the only one that was segregated.  
Training at Montford Point Camp
      Six of the marines who trained at Montford live in central Florida and have been getting a lot of well-deserved press as the date of the awards ceremony approaches.  The oldest of the six is 97 and the youngest is 83.  They were “just kids” when they served as marines during WWII.  Like the Tuskegee Airmen, they were on the receiving end of mindless insults and putdowns caused by the accepted attitudes of American society and the U.S. military at the time towards Americans with black skin.
      Like the Tuskegee Airmen, these exceptional men consider themselves to have been pioneers who needed to prove that black men could cut it as Marines.  In newspaper articles and other interviews, they recall being told that they were not wanted, that the Marines had been in business for 167 years and could go another 167 years without them.  Many of them were given dangerous jobs handling ammunition and retrieving the wounded - as well as dead comrades - while under fire.     
On a troop ship, still segregated.
       Each man interviewed indicated that he is proud to be a Marine (once a Marine, always a Marine, no matter your age or service status.)  We of the CAF Red Tail Squadron congratulate the Montford Point Marines on the occasion of receiving a Congressional Gold Medal. 
      Montford Point Camp was decommissioned in 1949 as a result of the desegregation of all U.S. Armed Services in 1948.  In 1974, Montford Point Camp was renamed Camp Gilbert H. Johnson – after one of the first black drill instructors at Montford.

     The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at the Capitol City Ford Indianapolis Air Show this weekend. 

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 15, 2012

Blimps, Father's Day and Golf

     Unless you are completely oblivious to our culture, you know it is customary to make a fuss over fathers on the third Sunday of June.  As of this month, my Dad has been gone 15 years.  I miss him still and find myself remembering things we enjoyed together, even after all these years.  This week, I decided to look at my DVDs of “Victory At Sea.” For those of you who have NO idea what I’m talking about, “Victory at Sea” was a very early TV series about WWII that focused on the sea war in both the Pacific and European theaters.  Each show (there were 26 of them; each was 30 minutes long) was full of original war footage and there was no scripted dialogue - the whole thing was narrated.
     I was all of four years old when the series was first televised in 1952, but I remember snuggling up with Dad on the dark green couch and watching it on our new black-and-white TV, fascinated with the ocean and ships but not even remotely understanding the significance of the story line.  Dad had only been out of the Air Force for seven years and he really enjoyed the series.  I remember we also had an LP (“long-playing”)  record (you know - vinyl?!?) of the program’s beautiful music we’d play on our stereo (that would be a radio and record player – with a needle and everything - housed together in a furniture-grade wooden cabinet with two – count ‘em, TWO – speakers embedded in the unit).
     Anyway, now that I have dated myself to almost the early Pleistocene period of modern electronics, I watched the first five shows in the “Victory at Sea” series this week and learned something I’d never been aware of.  When American and Canadian ships were hauling war materiel and other things to England in ship convoys, they were sitting ducks for German U-boats, which would even torpedo them just off the U.S. eastern seaboard.  One of the protections provided to the convoys was overhead coverage by blimps!

     I am intrigued by blimps. When I watch golf on TV, I pay more attention to the shots of the MetLife blimp overhead than what's happening on the fairway.  A ride in one is on my aviation “bucket list” so learning about their role as convoy protectors immediately got my attention.
     The blimps that did this duty were non-rigid “K” class, consisting of an “envelope” holding the helium for lift, and a 40-foot “control car” attached underneath it.  There was no superstructure – when deflated, the blimps went completely flat. 

      The blimps were powered by two radial engines mounted on the sides of the control car - you can just make out the propellers under the blimp in the photo above. The U.S. Navy ordered 134 of them from the Goodyear Aircraft Company in Ohio.  These “LTA” (“Lighter Than Air”) aviation units had a crew of ten: a command pilot, two co-pilots, a navigator/pilot, an airship rigger, an ordnance man, two mechanics, and two radiomen.  Each blimp carried four depth charges to drop on submarines and had a machine gun for protection.  A typical shift for a crew was 12-16 hours, floating over the convoys in all but the worst weather, weather that would ground other patrols.  Each crew usually went out on patrol every other day.
     Blimps operated by the U.S. Navy served in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. They did not operate alone – they worked with PBYs and other aircraft patrols.  However, their ability to hover quietly directly over the convoys at varying altitudes was a special attribute the other protective units didn’t have.
     Speaking of special attributes, Happy Father's Day to all of the male persuasion who love and protect their families and others who depend on them.  A special shout-out to those who do this while also protecting and serving the country they love. 

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 8, 2012

Mustang As Art

      People love to take pictures of airplanes.  At air shows, it’s probably safe to say that more than 80% of adult attendees bring cameras as stand-alones or part of a phone system.  Our own red-tailed P51-C Mustang is a very popular photo subject both on the ground and in the air. 
     Many artists make a living painting pictures of airplanes.  Sam Lyons, Stan Stokes, and Pati O’Neill are three artists who have captured the Mustang on canvas.  The Stokes picture and O’Neill prints are still available in the e-store.  Lyons donated his painting for the Squadron to sell as a fundraiser.
     A group of children from Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Phoenix sent us thank you notes after we visited that area last year.  The fact that they would send us notes was impressive, but the pictures they drew of the Mustang made them stand out in our minds.  We know we’re having an impact when we see things like this:

     I think they did an amazing job of capturing the essence of the Mustang and I hope they keep on drawing (and sending thank you notes!).  
     Have a wonderful weekend.  The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang are in Bowling Green, Kentucky through tomorrow.  After that, they head to Michigan.

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 1, 2012

Civilian Pilot Training Program

     After World War I – the “War To End All Wars” (if only…) - the United States military saw no reason to spend the money to maintain the airplanes or retain all of the pilots that served so valiantly in the skies over Europe.  Besides, advancements in airplane design were coming so regularly that the airplanes used in that war quickly became obsolete.
     The decision to stand down from military aviation preparedness came back to haunt the U.S. government in the mid-1930s when it became apparent that Nazi Germany, Italy and other nations were training thousands of young people to become pilots.  These cadets were enrolled in civilian pilot training programs, but it was obvious they were actually training for the military.
     In 1939, the USAAF only had 4,502 pilots, almost half of which were in the Reserves.  Taking a page from other countries’ approach to aviation training, at the end of 1938 President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the creation of a “trial program” of civilian pilot training under the CAA (Civil Aeronautics Authority) that would train 20,000 college students annually.  In 1939, the program became known as the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP).  The program would be offered at select colleges and universities and the government would pay for a 72-hour ground school course and then up to 40 hours of flight instruction.  From May 1939 until the attack on Pearl Harbor that marked America’s entry into World War II, 44 schools were selected to offer CPTP training.  After Pearl Harbor, that number escalated until, at its peak, CPTP training was offered at 1,132 educational institutions and 1,460 flight schools.  
      In 1942, the CPTP became the War Training Service (WRS).  From 1942 until 1944, when the CTPT/WRS program ended, students – including women - were trained to fly but they had to agree to join the military once their training was completed.  Women joined the WASPs (Women Airforce Service Pilots) and served with distinction in the United States.
      A few schools with black populations, including Howard and Virginia State Universities and Hampton and Tuskegee Institutes, were among those selected to include CPTP/WRS training in their curriculum. A flight school for blacks, The Coffey School of Aeronautics, was also selected to participate.  Tuskegee was the first, coming on board in 1939. 
     Interestingly, Alfred “Chief” Anderson, who headed the military flight instruction program at Tuskegee, instructed CPTP students at Howard before he was recruited to come to Tuskegee. It’s hard to imagine what the Tuskegee military flight training program would have been like without his knowledge and passion.
     From 1939 until 1944, 435,165 pilots were trained through the CPTP/WRS program. The program had an immediate impact on military aviation as well as local economies around schools that had the program and companies that built the trainer airplanes for the CPTP/WRS and the USAAF.

Hello, Pittsburgh
The P-51C Mustang named Tuskegee Airmen and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be participating in a 70th anniversary celebration of the Tuskegee Airmen at the Pittsburgh Fly Fest at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin today through Sunday.

 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