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 26, 2012

Help Stamp Out Last Minute Shopping!

     We at the CAF Red Tail Squadron are on a quest to help people get their holiday shopping done early so they can enjoy other aspects of the season. 
     To do that, we invite one and all to purchase at least a couple of holiday gifts from the Squadron’s online store.  Think of the benefits: 
  1. The joy of being able to cross off names on your gift list – that always makes me smile and I’m sure you feel the same way! 
  2. The comfort of shopping from home from a nice selection of gift items and having your purchases delivered to your door.  Don’t you love the idea of outsmarting the shopping hoards at the malls and big box stores?  Figure out what your time and energy are worth and you’ll know this is a biggie.
  3. The knowledge that the Squadron stands behind all of the merchandise and will refund or replace if there is a problem.
  4. The satisfaction of knowing that all proceeds from your e-store purchases go directly to fund our educational RISE ABOVE program.
 So what’s big this season in the e-store? 

     Well, we have the ever popular T-shirts and cloth ball caps with the original art and logos on them.  They are well made, nicely priced at $20 each and come in a choice of two colors – navy and khaki. (I have washed mine dozens of time and it still looks really good.)  If you want to save $5, you can order the “Cooldown Combo” which is your choice of one hat and one shirt – you can mix or match colors.  And remember… there’s no law that says you have to give one person both items – give one person the hat and another giftee the shirt and ta da!  – you’ve crossed two people off your list!
The "Cooldown Combo" - a cloth cap and T-shirt for just $35.
    If you live in a climate that gets cold in winter (and yes, that includes Florida – I know that from firsthand experience!) and know someone who is not big on knitted hats but needs to keep his/her head warm, the Squadron’s black leather ball cap is a great solution.  With all of the colorful Tuskegee Airmen unit insignia on it, it’s decorative and sure to draw admiring glances.
Durable and decorative black leather cap
      And then, for that special someone (or maybe even yourself?), we have the gorgeous full leather jacket in black or brown. This is a fun product for us to offer because people really love it.  We always have a few jackets for sale at the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit when it’s at air shows.  Our experience is that once people try it on, they just hate to take it off.  We’ve had some folks buy this jacket and then ask us to put the outerwear they wore to the air show into a bag so they could keep their beautiful new jacket on.  The quality of the jacket is amazing, but it’s the fabulous embroidered picture of the red-tailed Mustang in flight that really sells it.  

The art may look like a painting but it's embroidered on - very high quality.
 To view all of our apparel and apparel bundles in the e-store, click here. 
     So what else does the store have to offer?  There are art prints – I particularly like the “Tuskegee Tales” print by Pati O’Neal of the Mustang in its vintage hangar in South St. Paul and the inspirational quote about his heritage from Tuskegee Airman Joe Gomer. 
Art print by Pati O'Neal
There’s another print called “Red Tail By Request” by famed aviation artist Sam Lyons, too.  Both of these prints and more are offered at a reduced price for the holidays.

Art print by Sam Lyons
      We also carry a number of good books, including a few that are autographed by Tuskegee Airmen.  A couple of informational books cost just $5.00 – a great price for a stocking stuffer.
      Actually, we have quite a number of gifts in the $5-$10 range.  You can really pamper your budget with prices like that. Follow this link to see those.  And, if I’m allowed one more plug, the 2013 CAF Red Tail Squadron calendar will be a welcome gift for anyone who has birthdays, anniversaries and appointments to keep track of next year. We've created yearly calendars for some time now and they are very popular.  

The CAF Red Tail Squadron's 2013 12-month Calendar features photos by Max Haynes
       I could dedicate many more words to what the Squadron’s e-store has to offer, but it’s time to sign off.  The Squadron team puts a lot of thought into what products are carried in the store and always have one focus – to have items for sale that support the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.  We invite you to shop with us for the holidays and help our educational mission at the same time.  Thank you.

The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are Wings Over Houston (TX) this weekend at Ellington Airport.  Hours are 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. both days. 
Countdown to the election: 12 days. If you got a sample ballot, be sure to review it before heading to the polls.  The Florida sample ballot is many pages long because of numerous amendments up for decisions.  That seems to be a good way to settle amendment questions, but I was sure glad I remained eligible to vote by absentee ballot in Minnesota where the ballot was only two pages long!
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, 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

Friday, October 12, 2012

Spanish Civil War and the Me109

     For many years before America made its participation in WWII official on December 8, 1941, the Nazis had been beating up most of Europe.  There was another war going on, too, one that we here in America don’t reference a lot: the Spanish Civil War.
     This war divided Spain and went on for almost three years - from July 1936 until April 1939.  It was the Nationalists (i.e. rebels) vs. the Republicans (i.e. those in power) and it was a nasty fight, as it always is when both sides are convinced they are right and are fighting for power on their own soil. The war started with a partially successful coup by a group of generals against the elected government and then dragged on for three years.
     “Outside” countries weighed in with support and supplies.  The Republicans got help from Mexico and the Soviet Union.  The Nationalists got help from Nazi Germany, Portugal and Italy.
     The war was fought with tanks and airplanes as well as on the ground.  Germany is said to have provided 600 airplanes and 200 tanks to the rebels.  The Germans got the added benefit  of being able to analyze and improve their tank tactics in actual battle situations in Spain prior to the big show over Europe 1939-1945.
     One of the German airplanes used in Spain was the Messerschmitt Bf 109.  This airplane is considered one of the best fighters developed during the WWII era and the Tuskegee Airmen were very familiar with them, shooting down more than 45 Me 109’s (the airplane's short name) in air combat.
An Me 109 waiting to fly (Photo courtesy
      After the war, most of the remaining German Me 109s were scrapped, but a number of them were used by Finland and Switzerland for a few years post-war.  Interestingly, Spain was given a contract to build them for Germany in 1942, but they had trouble getting engines.  Production never really stopped, though, and in 1967, an American producer needed a group of the Me 109s for a movie and Spain was able to provide them (now called the HA-11xx series).  This group of airplanes was used in a number of WWII movies for the next 35 years, including 1995’s HBO film “Tuskegee Airmen.”
     A number of wrecked Me 109s have been retrieved from Russia for restoration but this one, set up to start its rebuild at MeierMotorsGmbH in Germany, was actually used in the Spainish Civil War so we’ve come full circle in our overview of this WWII fighter.

     Regarding that war, the Nationalists won and General Francisco Franco ruled as a dictator until 1975 when he died.  It is now a constitutional monarchy along the lines of Great Britain.

Still in Indiana
The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. as part of their homecoming festivities.  The Traveling Exhibit is on campus today and tomorrow.  Today’s public hours are 3 to 5 p.m. and tomorrow’s hours are 8 a.m. until noon.

Countdown to the election: 26 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

Thursday, October 4, 2012

That “Gigant” German Warbird

     Nope, that’s not a misspelling of the word “giant” – that’s “giant” in German!  The Germans gave that nickname to their Messerschmidt Me 323 because it was a huge 6-engined troop carrier and ultimately turned out to be the largest land-based transport vehicle of WWII. 
The Messerschmidt Me 323
     The Me 323’s design was based on the Me321 glider – another “gigant” that was never used to full advantage.  That machine was designed to haul 100+ troops, or a big gun, or large motorized transport vehicle.  However, finding a powerful enough tow plane to get it in the air was an issue.  It also needed special tow vehicles to maneuver it on the ground since it was engine-less. Finally, it could only gain an airspeed of 100 mph once it was airborne and that degraded as the glide time increased.  Talk about your sitting duck… It was usable but not ideal and soon gave way to its new motorized sister vehicle – the Me 323.
The Messerschmidt Me 321 glider
     The Germans only built about 200 of the Me 323s and none survive on land.  However, one may have been discovered this year off the coast of Sardinia where it was believed to have been shot down in 1943.  It is my understanding that they are still evaluating if it really is a Me 323 but most experts believe it is.  There is no indication of plans to raise it (yet), but the temptation to do so must be pretty strong.
     Here is a link to a 2-minute video about that wreck which has footage in it of the Messerschmidt Me 323 in use during WWII.  
Terre Haute
     The Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are at Hoosier Aviation FBO in Terre Haute, Ind. through tomorrow.  It is an “open house” format and admission to the grounds is free.  Of course, admission to the Traveling Exhibit is always free so this is a good deal for everybody.  Hours today are noon until 6 p.m. and tomorrow from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Countdown to the election: 33 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