Profile - The CAF Red Tail Project

My photo
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, November 30, 2012

The Henry Ford Museum – Part 1 (of 3)

NOTE: Mike and I just returned Sunday from an 18-day, 4,533 mile road trip that took us in a loop from Florida to Minnesota by way of Ohio and Michigan and back again.  The objectives were to deliver family furniture (first – and hopefully last – time hauling a trailer 2100 miles…) and spend time with family in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  
     While in Dearborn, Michigan we went to the Henry Ford Museum.  Because both of us contracted bad colds on the trip, we’d made the decision to not stop at the USAF Museum in Dayton, Ohio on our way home, which made sense given the sneeze factor yet was very disappointing.  Fortunately, “the Henry Ford” as it’s called, took the edge off my desire to wander hangar after hangar in Dayton by featuring a really good aviation exhibit.  I’ll share what I saw and photographed in three blogs.

     This is one of two entryways to the Heroes Of The Sky exhibit at the Henry Ford. That’s a DC-3 (NC21728) hanging overhead. 

     When the aircraft was donated to the Museum in 1975, it had spent more time aloft than any other airplane in history (that record was later broken by – another DC-3!).  The statistics about this airliner, which flew under the Eastern Airlines and North Central Airlines (later Northwest) logos, are pretty fun:
-          It flew more than 12 million miles in 83,032 hours
-          It went through 136 engines
-          It used 550 main gear tires and 25,000 spark plugs
-          It taxied more than 100,000 miles

     The exhibit is organized by galleries – 1st Flight, Inventors, Explorers, Entrepreneurs, Barnstormers and Record Breakers.  As I do when I get around airplanes, I just sort of wandered so my blog review will do the same.
     I really liked the Wright Brother’s Flyer replica.  The Museum’s curators set it up in sand and left tools nearby to replicate the actual conditions of the first flight on the dunes at Kitty Hawk.  The detailed figures of Orville and Wilbur add to the drama of the moment. In fact, the beautifully crafted, life-sized figures positioned around many of the airplane exhibits really enhanced their impact.

    Henry Ford was not an aviation buff.  In fact, he only flew a handful of times.  What he was, though, was a savvy businessman who saw opportunity in the budding post-WWI aviation industry.  The first commercial airplane his company manufactured was the classic Ford Trimotor, starting in 1926.  The Museum’s Trimotor (NX4542), named the “Floyd Bennett” is the one that Admiral Richard E. Byrd flew over the South Pole on November 28, 1929 during an 18-hour flight.  He had brought three airplanes with him on the expedition, but this one was the first to fly over the Pole – ever.

     Two years earlier, in 1926, Bryd had been one of many attempting to be the first to fly over the North Pole. This was his airplane for that expedition; Floyd Bennett was his pilot.    
   Edsel Ford sponsored the trip so the airplane was named after his daughter, Josephine.  Airplane builder Anthony "Tony" Fokker wanted to be sure that people did not think that the airplane was a Ford trimotor so he painted “Fokker” on the fuselage and under the wings! 

    Byrd and Bennett claimed to have successfully completed an out-and-back flight to the Pole on May 9, 1926, but there is still controversy about whether or not they actually made it to the Pole.  Byrd was an intense competitor!

     Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen and others flew the airship “Norge” over the North Pole three days later.  That flight is now popularly credited with being the first over that Pole with no controversy since they flew from Spitsbergen, Norway on to Alaska.  The painted backdrop for the exhibit includes the "Norge" and its modified hangar (imagine building a hangar in those conditions...)

     A note about Floyd Bennett:  after the North Pole expedition, he was on the Byrd-led team which was preparing to cross the Atlantic non-stop for the first time in order to win the Orteig Prize.  He was badly injured during a test flight landing (Byrd and others were slightly injured). Charles Lindbergh went on to set the non-stop record and Bennett developed pneumonia as a result of the crash.  He was on a rescue mission – in a Ford Trimotor - in Canada when he died mid-flight.  His co-pilot flew the remaining eight hours alone and the rescue was a success.
      At the same time Henry Ford started building the Trimotor (1926), he also was thinking of the everyday aviator.   He’d perfected the assembly line system that made the Model T car reasonably priced for most Americans, so why not do the same with an airplane?   He ordered his engineers to come up with an airplane that could fit in his office!  The result was the “Flivver.”  Only three were built and only two men flew the one in the Museum – Ford test pilot Harry Brooks and Charles Lindbergh.

     That’s it for this week.  Next week’s blog will feature airmail, barnstormers, air races, groundbreakers, Lindbergh (as you’ve probably never seen him…) and more.  See you then.

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, November 23, 2012


     In 1922, the International Astronomical Union moved to clear the night sky of many named constellations.  Prior to this move hundreds of constellations existed, many of which were named by their discovering astronomers to honor patrons or celebrate events.  There are now 88 recognized constellations in the heavens, none of which - except for the Big Dipper/North Star - I can find anywhere except on a paper map.
     Why bring this up? Well, it's kind of interesting because we all experience the stars of the night sky and it's a decent lead in to a short history of one of the aviation industry's pioneering aircraft - the Lockheed Constellation, a.k.a the "Connie."
      When I went to the Chanute Air Museum this summer and stepped outside to see the array of airplanes on display, my eyes went right to the Connie.  There's just something about its striking tapered profile and triple tail design that makes it stand out.  Frankly, it's beautiful - this from someone who thinks ALL airplanes are exceptional and oohs and aahs over every war bird and 747 she sees.
     What made the Connie so pioneering was the fact that it was the first pressurized airplane in widespread commercial use.  Because it could carry up to 109 passengers (depending on interior configuration), it helped make air travel affordable as well as comfortable.  It also featured a de-icing system for wing and tail edges and had hydraulic assist with some controls.
      The first Constellation was built in 1943 and the last in 1958.  In all, 856 were built;  22 were completed during the WWII years.  These were known as C-69s and were used as high-speed military transports.
       TWA (Trans World Airlines) flew the first Connie commercially from New York to Paris in 1946.  In 1947, Pan American Airways inaugurated the first-ever scheduled around-the-world flight, in a Constellation, numbered "Pan-Am 1."
        The airplane set all kinds of records. The one I enjoyed reading about most took place in April 1944 when Howard Hughes and a co-pilot flew a C-69 (the military Connie) from Burbank, Calif. to Washington, D.C. in just under seven hours.  On the trip back to Burbank, they stopped at Wright Field in Dayton, Ohio to give Orville Wright his last flight.  This was about 40 years and six months after the Wright Brothers' first powered flight in December 1903.  Mr. Wright is said to have commented that the wingspan of the C-69 was longer than his first flight's duration!
        Another record that will stand because it would now be illegal to try and break it is an Eastern Airlines flight from New York to Washington D.C. in just over 30 minutes.  Eastern used the Connie in its revolutionary "shuttle" service between those two cities as well as New York to Boston.  What made the shuttles so unusual was that no reservations were taken, no seats assigned, patrons paid in cash on board and if a flight was full, another airplane was ready to take the overflow - no long waits.  Cost (one way) was $12 to Boston and $14 to D.C., 10% federal tax included!  The Connies flew that route from its inauguration in 1961 until 1968 when other, more modern aircraft took over.
       The Connie was replaced at Lockheed by production of its Electra L-188.  That's the airplane my Dad and I would go out to the old Wold Chamberlain Airport (now Minneapolis-St. Paul International/MSP) to watch take off on Sunday afternoons.  "She looks like a homesick angel," he would often say, wonder in his voice as we watched it ascend from take off at an impossible (to us) angle.
      Getting back to the Constellation, I've not pulled in any photos because I don't want to risk copyright infringements.  However, I did find this great website that has oodles of pictures of various Connies still in the U.S.  Very few still fly but even grounded, they're pretty cool.  Click here to see the site.

     BTW, you may (or may not...) be glad to know that I will NOT be doing a countdown to Christmas.  Why heighten the urgency to prep for a season that is already stressful, albeit typically of our own making?  Savor this day after Thanksgiving and take the next 26 days one day at a time.

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, November 16, 2012

It's Not All About Us - The Canadians Also Celebrate Thanksgiving

     The American Thanksgiving is relatively early this year.  In fact, November 22nd is the earliest date that the holiday can fall on.  If you’re looking for a fun factoid to share with your guests next Thursday between football games and the dessert course, that would qualify.
     As I pondered which type of pie to bake for the family feast this year (plain pecan, bourbon chocolate pecan or apple - my son is in charge of the pumpkin variety), for some reason I got to thinking about the Canadian Thanksgiving.  That meant research (yay!) and here's what I found out:
     Our neighbors to the north tie their day of thanks to the fall harvest (we do the Pilgrims/Indian version).   After being unofficially observed within a two week time frame between late October and early November since the late 1500s, November 6 was declared an official national Canadian Thanksgiving holiday in 1879.  In 1957, this was amended to the second Monday in October.  That change was made because the November date meant that Thanksgiving and the marking of  Remembrance Day (like our Armistice/Veterans Day) on November 11 often occurred in the same week.   Holidays are great, but two in a week is a bit much.
     Other than tying the holiday to the harvest and celebrating it on a Monday in October, the actual celebration in Canada is a lot like it is here.   Families and friends gather to share a traditional turkey-based meal and (hopefully) offer a thought of thanks to their particular deities for blessings received during the previous year.
     Next Thursday, drive safely, eat joyously, and don't forget the "thank you" part.  We at the Squadron are thankful for you and all of our supporters. Without your enthusiasm for the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and the financial generosity provided to help us share that story with others, we'd just be another charity with a gimmick.  Instead, we are a decades-old non-profit with an educational mission that uses a rare WWII-era airplane, an original movie, and face-to-face conversations to show people that no matter how dire the circumstances, courage and perseverance such as the Tuskegee Airmen exhibited as they worked to become America's first black military pilots can help anyone succeed.
     Happy Thanksgiving!

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Help Us Maximize Give To The Max

     Happy Wednesday!  We just wanted to let you know that the CAF Red Tail Squadron is going to be participating in a big once-a-year event tomorrow.  “Give To The Max Day” is a full 24 hours set aside for qualifying charities in Minnesota to raise money for their missions in a focused effort. We are delighted to be part of it.
     A generous donor has agreed to be part of a matching funds program up to a certain amount so many donations will be doubled with no effort on the part of the giver.  We also qualify for many companies’ matching gift programs.  If your company has one, we’d love it if you’d consider giving to us and letting your company match it.
     Our donors have been approved to use the “early give” function.  If you want to set up your donation now, while you’re thinking about it, you can go to this page and set up your donation immediately.  It won’t be processed until tomorrow, the 15th.   You can also give via your mobile, using this address:
      Your emotional support and enthusiasm are always appreciated, but if you can make a financial contribution as well, we’d really appreciate it.  We were very pleased with the numbers for 2012:
  • More than 42,000 kids and adults registered to see the “Rise Above” movie and none of them paid a dime.   The kids came away with free dog tags, too.
  • The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and/or the Mustang visited 19 states, eight of them more than once (we did six events in Florida!) 
  • We participated in 38 air shows/events.
      We anticipate that 2013 will be another great year, but we have a big expense hanging over our plans – the Mustang needs a new engine, which costs about $200,000.  For safety reasons, we can’t fudge on this – the Mustang gets a new engine or it doesn’t fly. 
       We’ve raised more than $62,000 so far but we have a long way to go.  We hope you can help.

Thank you –
The CAF Red Tail Squadon Team

Friday, November 9, 2012

The 2012 Event Recap

     What does the CAF Red Tail Squadron have in common with the 2012 presidential contest?  Both have come to the end of their campaigns!  Whew, huh?
     I can only imagine how the political winners and losers feel, but I know that we at the Squadron are very pleased with the numbers we posted for 2012:

     19:  Number of states the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit visited at least once (we went to six different cities in Florida and went more than once to seven other states!)           
     38:  Air shows and events attended
     12,300+: Number of students we welcomed to the Traveling Exhibit during our outreach efforts:
     30,000+: Number of people who registered to see the “Rise Above” movie in the Traveling Exhibit:

     When we speak in terms of our “numbers,” it would be easy to just look at the good totals and go from there.  However, we who have been fortunate to work at the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and watch people be wowed by the red-tailed P-51C Mustang know it’s really the individual reaction to our educational mission that counts.
     Sure, we have school kids come through that have to maintain their “cool” and not really get into what the “Rise Above” movie has to say.  (I often wonder what a teacher can say or do to engage them in anything?)  And at air shows, sometimes (but not often), people will look at the magnificent Mustang, sitting there on the tarmac with its bright red tail, and just keep walking.  
     Maybe it’s because I personally cannot pass a warbird in a museum or at an air show without pausing to just drink it in, but it’s beyond me how anyone can look at a six-decades old airplane – THAT CAN STILL FLY – and not want to at least pause and give it a mental salute.
     Anyway, we welcomed folks of all ages to the Traveling Exhibit and the Mustang and enjoyed seeing each and every one of them.  Here is a short photo essay highlighting some of the places we saw and people we met.  Unless noted, photos are courtesy of Squadron regulars – the drive team of Terry and Jeanette Hollis and logistics coordinator, Marvona Welsh.  They all worked so hard to make this year such a success so deserve a little shout-out.
    We had new flags to help folks find the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit
 We got media attention,

 movie stars visited,
The Squadron's Terry Hollis with Elijah Kelley, star of "Red Tails"
And even the Superheroes showed up.
When we were extra lucky, Tuskegee Airmen stopped by
Mustang pilots Brad Lang, Tuskegee Airman Leo Gray, Doug Rozendaal in Florida
Harold Brown signed autographs and talked with people all four days of the Port Clinton (OH) event.
 We went to a lot of schools during the days prior to many air shows 
(and a lot of schools bused kids to see us)...
This is the cafeteria area of the new Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. High School in Houston.  The school is, of course, named for the famed leader of the Tuskegee Airmen. Note a model of his P-51 "By Request" hanging from the ceiling.  Also note "Expect To Win" on the wall behind it. Including that one, we counted five of the six Principles we use in our educational program on the cafeteria walls: Aim High, Believe  In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Never Quit!
The kids were sometimes formal,
Eisenhower High ROTC (Texas)
but were more often informal.
Bowling Green (KY) group
At air shows, we really liked it when the Mustang and 
the Traveling Exhibit were set up close together.

We also liked that kids were intrigued.

Our pilots spent literally hours by and on the Mustang, answering questions
and helping people get into and out of the cockpit for a quick "sit down."
Squadron pilot Alan Miller chats with one of dozens of visitors who wanted to get up close and personal to our beautiful Mustang

 The tent was busy with people registering to see the 
"Rise Above" movie and buying things.

All day long, at each and every stop, people waited 
patiently in line for the next show to start.  

On the ground, photographers set up shots like this:
 And a lucky few, like photographer Adam Glowaski, got shots like this:
Three red tails: From top: the P-51C "Tuskegee Airmen", a Beech and a T-6
     We are already lining up our event schedule for 2013.  If you would like the Traveling Exhibit and/or Mustang to come to your town, call Marvona Welsh at 812-240-2560 to discuss. 

     If you came to see us at an event this year, thank you so much.  We hope to see you again next 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, November 2, 2012

Why We Shouldn’t Take Our Vote For Granted

Note:  Today’s blog is about the evolution of voting rights in America.  There will be generalizations made in the interest of keeping the blog to an easily readable length and to avoid citing various legal cases (although I’ve always thought that that the “XXXX v. XXXX” case description is cool).  I am aware that the states have the right to grant or deny the right to vote to its residents based on parameters set by each state.  For instance, if you are a convicted felon who has served a sentence and is now free, some states will restore your right to vote and others will not.  With 50 states in the union that have their own voting protocols, I'm trying to keep it simple.  Feel free to do your own investigating (after you read the blog, of course...) 

     As we go to the polls on Tuesday, there are only two eligibility requirements mandated by the U.S. government – that a voter be a U.S. citizen who is currently a resident of the United States and that the voter was born on or before November 6, 1994.  
     Voting rights have not always been so straightforward.  In fact, it’s taken five amendments to the U.S. Constitution – dating from 1868 to 1971 - to establish those seemingly simple parameters.
14th Amendment
For almost 100 years, the majority of qualified voters were white male landowners who paid taxes.  (Free black men had initially been allowed to vote but their voting rights dwindled as the race/slavery question gained momentum through the first half of the 1800s. ) In July 1868, three years after the Civil War ended, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified.  This action gave male citizens age 21 and older the right to vote in national elections.

15th Amendment
Less than a year later, the 15th Amendment was made law of the land.  It guaranteed that the right to vote could not be denied because of race, color or previous condition of servitude.  This directly answered the question of whether or not black men who had previously been slaves could vote.
Library of Congress file graphic
  20th Amendment
It took another 51 years for women to gain the right to vote - the 20th Amendment was ratified in August, 1920.
Library of Congress file photo
24th Amendment
44 years later, in January 1964, the 24th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote even if the citizen had not paid poll or other taxes.  Up until 1964, five Southern states still demanded that each voter pay a “poll tax” before being allowed to vote in any election.  This policy was a throwback to the days of post-Civil War Reconstruction; it was designed to make it difficult for black  men to vote.
Poll tax receipt from California (1905)
 26th Amendment
The most recent Constitutional amendment related to voting was the 26th, which was ratified in July 1971.  Popular opinion was that this was an attempt to make things more equal for the young men who were being drafted at age 18 to fight in the Vietnam War.  They were in effect old enough to fight, but not old enough to vote, the voting age being 21 at that point.   This amendment took the shortest time for the required number of states to ratify: 3 months and 10 days.
Carrying a wounded buddy to the Huey (Vietnam) - Library of Congress file photo

     It’s easy to breezily go through the list of voting-related amendments.  However, what needs to be kept in mind for these and ALL constitutional amendments is that presenting them, having Congress vote on them and then having them ratified by the required three-quarters of existing states was never a slam dunk.  Except for one - the repeal of Prohibition, which was decided in state constitutional conventions - each amendment had to be voted on by state legislatures whose members can be a partisan, contentious lot.  
     So…as you go to the free polls to vote on Tuesday, take a moment to appreciate the work that went into creating the laws that allow you to vote as a citizen of this country no matter your gender, color or race.  You might also want to quietly remember the hundreds of thousands of military personnel - like the Tuskegee Airmen - who have fought and died to keep America’s freedoms and rights intact.

     This weekend marks the last air show of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s 2012 season!  It’s a free show at Homestead Army Reserve Base in Homestead, Florida.  Hours are 8 to 5 both Saturday and Sunday, and the Mustang is scheduled to fly an acrobatic routine in the performance portion of the show. 
     It’s been a great year for the Squadron’s educational mission.  Next week’s blog will be a recap of where we went, what we did, and the folks we met.

Countdown to the election: 4 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