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, December 28, 2012

Moving Into A New Year

     The end of 2012 is upon us!  Counting today, there are only four days left to put those New Year's resolutions from last January to bed! 
     A new year often mean new changes.  I personally am in the process of moving back to Minnesota from Florida.  When I moved down there "temporarily" in November of last year, it was thought Mike and I would be back in Minnesota by this past summer.  However, God didn't see fit to call Mike's ailing mother home until this September, after 22 months of being eligible for hospice assistance. 
      While there, I learned to live with extreme heat and high dew points, and the biggest spiders I've ever seen in my life (thankfully, each one I found in the house was dead but still...).  The lizards that lived in the front shrubbery were entertaining and harmless.  The Halifax river was four houses to the west and the Atlantic was a block to the east.  The golf courses beckoned more often than we could take advantage.  Best of all, Mike and I learned to appreciate and support each other in our jobs - his as sole 24-hour caregiver for his mother and me as a writer for business.
      Because of my extended stay, except for short visits my town home in Minnesota has been empty for 13 months.  The longest I was "home" during that time was six days - and then I indulged in hanging out with the family and friends I missed so much.  As a result of that indulgence I'm now dealing with many months' worth of household accumulation and dust (a biggie).  On top of that, I'll be hoeing and throwing my stuff and clothing to make room for Mike's stuff and clothing.  (Writing this blog is a welcome break!)
      While I knew that this change was coming, somehow it snuck up on both of us and moderate panic set in when we looked at the calendar last week. Since Mike's mother's house has been sold, we needed to get more of his stuff out of the house and up here by closing on January 7th.  [You may recall we already took one road trip up here over Thanksgiving, hauling a trailer full of more stuff and furniture.] 
     So, at about noon on Christmas Day, Mike and I arrived in Minnesota from Florida with another load of household items and small-ish furniture.  It was a long 2.5 days but we did well, logging more than 650 miles each of the first two days. He drove our new (to us) big Tahoe and I drove my 14-year-old RAV4; both were loaded to the max.  This trip was interesting from a number of perspectives.  Perhaps you can relate to some of them if you've ever done cross-country driving:
  1.  It's hit or miss when it comes to friendly clerks at gas stations.  Ditto clean restrooms.  State rest areas rock.  Perkins restaurants are very busy on Christmas Eve. 
  2. There are a good number of grass airfields near small towns, some near to the interstate system.  I was driving - not riding - so I couldn't spend a lot of time looking but the ones I spotted were mown and had wind socks.  I'd love to see what sort of aircraft used those wavy runways. 
  3. People have different ways of treating their domestic animals and livestock.  On state highways in Kentucky, southern Indiana and mid-state Illinois, we saw horses and cattle/cows in wonderful condition, with plenty of round bales of hay, good-looking pasturage, and access to water and shelter.  We saw dogs playing with their owners, all having a good time.  Unfortunately, we also saw malnourished horses with no shelter and skinny cattle scavenging for corn in harvested fields.  A number of dogs were chained up away from the house - such a sad situation for these pack-loving animals. Seeing this was particularly disturbing because winter storm "Euclid" was only 24 hours away from hitting that part of the country with cold and snow which meant food would be covered and hides/fur/hair would be wet and very cold.  
  4. The Canadian geese were moving south by the hundreds over Wisconsin on Christmas Day.  They may be driven by instinct but as the air got colder and colder outside, their flight seemed pretty smart to me!
  5. If you are doing the caravan thing with two vehicles and one has 8 cylinders and the other 4, dealing with interstate traffic can be interesting, to say the least.  We found we had to work almost constantly to keep each other within sight of each other.  It helped that the Tahoe was tall and my RAV had a tire on the back as identifiers.
  6. I had the satisfaction of being able to drive by the "Rantoul" exit on I74 in Illinois knowing I'd actually visited the Octave Chanute Aviation Museum there already this year.  I'd passed that sign at least 11 times in the past five years and always told myself I'd stop and this was the year it got done.  There are so many places to see that are aviation-related in this country!   
  7. Surprising someone dear to you on a holiday like Christmas (or any time, come to think of it) is a treat in itself.  Neither my son or daughter had any idea we'd be knocking at the door Christmas afternoon.   Doing things spur of the moment - even if they are born of necessity - often has its own rewards.
     In 2013, I'm looking forward to being back at my home computer, typing away while sitting at my father's old keyhole desk.  We'll put Mike's antique secretary desk in the office with me so he can listen to me growl when my fingers run amok and I can listen to him groan when he reads the political commentary online.  
     I hope that whatever you have planned for 2013 comes to pass as you'd like and that the surprises (and you know there will be some of those) will be mostly pleasant.  Remember that the unpleasant surprises will help build character (at least that's what my mother said...). 
     Be sure to check our 2013 online event calendar to see where the Squadron will be sending its RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and Mustang (once it gets its new engine).  Our first dates in February are already noted!  It's gonna be a great year!

Friday, December 21, 2012


 Today’s short blog entry will be about two interesting Christmas-y items related to the military

The Wreaths
      Since 1992, Merrill Worcester, the owner of Worcester Wreath Company in Harrington, Maine has been donating wreaths to be placed on gravestones and the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery.  Volunteer truckers transport them from Maine to Virginia and other volunteers walk the Cemetery and place the wreaths.  In addition, his company ships seven wreaths to each state at this time of year to honor all branches of the military and MIAs.
      The first year, 5,000 wreaths were donated.  This year, more than 110,000 wreaths were placed just at Arlington.  

Due to continued and growing interest, in 2007 a non-profit called Wreaths Across America was set up to help raise money for wreaths to be placed at Arlington and other military burial venues and to also coordinate related nation-wide wreath-laying ceremonies so they could all take place at the same time if possible.   This year’s wreath-laying day was December 15.
      WAA is also focused on educating people about the sacrifices made by veterans to protect our freedoms.  As supporters of the CAF Red Tail Squadron know, that’s a story that must continue to be told as new generations are born and grow.

The Tree
     Since 1947, the country of Norway has been sending a huge Christmas tree to the English people as a token of gratitude for their help during the World War II years (1940-45).  The tree is always set up in Trafalgar Square in downtown London.  This year’s tree – which is popularly known as the “Oslo Tree” - is decked out in blue lights with a large white star on top.

     All of us who work with and for the CAF Red Tail Squadron wish all of you a very happy Christmas next Tuesday.  For those of you with children or spouses on active military duty, know that many of us have experienced your mixed feelings of pride in them and loneliness for them as you celebrate the holiday without them.  We thank you for your sacrifice as deeply as we thank them for theirs.

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, December 14, 2012

Henry Ford Museum – Part 3 of 3

     Today’s final blog entry about the Henry Ford Museum is a bit of a mixed bag.  We’ll wrap up the aviation segment with the “record setters.” 
     We’ve already touched on Charles Lindbergh and his role as an airmail pilot.  His “Wow” moment was, of course, when he flew alone non-stop from New York to Paris to win the $25,000 Orteig prize (about $335,000 in today’s dollars)  and the adulation of the world.  The Museum “only” has a replica of his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, but even this is special.  A Ryan B-1 Brougham was modified for use in the 1957 movie about that adventure, which starred James Stewart as Lindbergh.  Mr. Stewart, a noted private and WWII military pilot, later purchased that replica.  [When you’re done reading the blog, I encourage you to click the link at the bottom to  Stewart’s wikipedia page and read about his military career during WWII.  Just the fact that he was one of only a few Americans to be promoted from private to colonel in four years should give you some idea of the depth of his desire to serve during the war.]
     After his record-setting flight, Charles Lindbergh was an American hero of such proportion that, as happens today with popular culture icons, the media covered his life extensively.  I loved this one-pager that “explained,” using his facial features, why he (here referred to as "Plucky," one of two popular nicknames (the other was "Lucky")) was destined to be a hero.

Here's the copy in case you can't read it:
Hair - blond: daring, aggressive
Rounded head: courage
Top of nose where it touches forehead: defiance to obstacles
Ridge of nose: sensitiveness and genius
Tip of nose: power
Upper lip: self control and masterfulness
Face as a whole: retiring and shy

     It would be interesting to know how this “retiring and shy” Minnesota kid reacted to such "analysis"!

     Once the Atlantic crossing challenge had been conquered, the next major aviation records to go after included crossing the entire Pacific non-stop as well as flying around the world.  Neither goal was easy, but Americans Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon flew from Japan to the state of Washington in October, 1931.  Australian Charles Kingsford Smith accomplished the first around-the-world flight in 1929.
     Amelia Earhart sought both records – and many others - and as most people know, her second attempt to be the first woman to complete a global circumnavigation was not successful - she flew her Lockheed Electra into oblivion over the south Pacific.  The Henry Ford has staged its Lockheed Vega to honor Earhart, who flew a Vega as the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1932, and recount her history as a pioneering pilot.

     A local (as in Detroit) duo also attempted to fly around the world.  William S. Brock and Edward F. Schlee flew their 1927 Stinson-Detroiter, named Pride of Detroit, east in August, 1927 and made it to Japan where they decided trying to cross the Pacific by air was not feasible.  This decision was reinforced by the news that at the same time they were flying their world-wide route, organized attempts to fly from northern California to Hawaii had resulted in the loss of 10 lives and six airplanes. Even though they didn’t complete the entire trip, after crossing the Atlantic they had flown from England to Japan in just 18 days and were treated as heroes when they got home.

     After spending a couple of hours (and taking 78 photos…) in the Heroes of the Sky exhibit, I finally let our party move on!  The Henry Ford – naturally – has an extensive display of automobiles and trains, including an absolutely enormous steam locomotive.  They also display a snowplow for a train.  It’s hard to imagine how much snow it moved when in action.

     The Museum has tied some of the automobiles on display to the American spirit of freedom on the road as cars became more and more popular and people actually traveled away from home in them.  The Museum staff recreated a complete 1950’s era Holiday Inn motel room and had numerous other displays demonstrating what travel was like in the mid-20th century.  I particularly enjoyed seeing what they came up in the very early days in order to use a vehicle as a camper.

     The exhibit doesn’t back away from the fact that only white Americans truly had freedom of the road. Black Americans were still turned away from hotels and restaurants in many cities.  One panel was devoted to an entrepreneur who did something about that by opening a motel that catered to black travelers.

      An exhibit entitled "With Liberty and Justice For All" ties the Civil War to the struggle for racial equality in the 1960s.  There is a lot of  information about the roots of slavery in the south and Lincoln’s role as President during the war that would end it.   This map is a sort of early version of the "blue" and "red" states we are familiar with during election years, but it shows very graphically which states allowed slavery (red) and which opposed it (black).  Blue states were neutral.  I was struck by the huge gap in the country at that time - think of all the states that had yet to be admitted to the Union as of the mid-1800s!
     The chair that Lincoln was sitting in when he was shot at Ford’s (no relation to Henry) Theater in April, 1965 makes one pause and really take it in.  Bloodstains still are visible at the top.
      The U.S. military’s policy of racial discrimination affected the Tuskegee Airmen while they were training at Tuskegee, Alabama and throughout their military careers during World War II.  The armed services were desegregated in 1948 and black service members found more doors open to them.  Unfortunately, the prejudice the Airmen endured in the 1940s was still going strong throughout most of the South years later and it affected virtually every black American who lived in the region. 
     On December 1, 1955, a 42-year-old black woman, who was born in Tuskegee,  got on a Montgomery (Ala.) city bus to go home after work.  Rosa Parks sat down towards the front of the bus. Stop after stop, the bus got more crowded.  The bus driver told Ms. Parks to move to the back of the bus – behind the sign he was in charge of placing in the bus aisle so blacks would know how far towards the front they could sit - so that a white passenger could sit in her seat.  Ms. Parks refused and was arrested for breaking the segregationist “Jim Crow” law about black and white seating on buses.  In support of Ms. Parks and as an organized protest, the black community boycotted the Montgomery Bus Company for 381 days, causing major disruption in the company's finances.  The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the law requiring buses to be segregated was unconstitutional.

     Ms. Parks’ stance on the bus that day is generally thought of as the beginning of the Civil Rights movement that progressed steadily through the South for the next 10+ years.  A group of black leaders in Montgomery formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (“MIA”) to spearhead desegregation efforts in that city.  This sign, created by the MIA,  spells out how black people should behave on the newly integrated buses after the Supreme Court ruling.  Blacks were so used to the “old ways” that they needed help adjusting to their new rights! 

The copy reads:
Within a few days you will be re-boarding integrated buses.  If there is violence in word or deed, it must not be our people who commit it.

1. The bus driver is in charge of the bus and has been instructed to obey the law.  Assume that he will cooperate in helping you occupy any vacant.
2.  Do not deliberately sit by a white person, unless there is no other seat.
3.  In sitting down by a person, white or colored, say “May I” or “Pardon me” as you sit.  This is common courtesy.
4.  If cursed, do not curse back.  If pushed, do not push back.  If struck, do not strike back but clearly show love and goodwill at all times.
5.  If you feel you cannot take it, walk for another week or two.  We have confidence on our people.  GOD BLESS YOU ALL.

     American history is so interesting and the Henry Ford Museum does a great job of presenting so many facets of it.  If you’re ever in Dearborn, Michigan I hope you’ll take a day and check it out.  They have three restaurants on-site so there’s really no excuse not to go!

     Still looking for Christmas gifts?  Don’t forget to check out the Squadron’s e-store for great deals on unique gifts.

      Here’s that link to James Stewart’s wikipedia page.  His career in the entertainment industry is great fun to read about, but it’s his war record that is pretty impressive for aviation buffs.

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, December 7, 2012

Henry Ford Museum - Part 2 of 3

     We continue our tour of the Heroes Of The Sky Exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan with some practical aviation – airmail.

     Regularly scheduled U.S. airmail flights started in 1918 and routes were regularly added (and shut down) throughout the next decade. 

This 1927 Boeing B-40 beauty is also known as Number 285.  It was donated to the Museum in 1938 after an amazing career as a mail plane.  It flew 6,039 service hours and crashed four times (with no human injuries). 

     Early in the airmail era, pilots literally flew by the seat of their pants and only during the day, using geography, rail lines and roads to help them get to their destinations since instrumentation was rudimentary at best. 

     In February 1921, a San Francisco to New York relay was put together to test the feasibility of flying cross-country airmail routes at night.  Four teams started out to fly the 2,629 miles, but only one made it through, mostly thanks to one pilot named James “Jack” Knight who took a double shift and flew 830 miles when his relief pilot got snowed in in Chicago.  Along the route, postal workers, airfield employees and farmers lit bonfires to help him cross the Great Plains from North Platte, Nebraska to Chicago.
     Many pilots were needed to fly the airmail routes; Charles Lindbergh was one who signed up.    Here’s a recap of one of his experiences.
    U.S. airmail was started the same year World War I ended.  Airplanes were used in that conflict, and when it ended, surplus airplanes and pilots who still wanted to fly in peacetime came home. Many of those pilots flew the airmail routes, but many more became barnstormers, participating in air shows or "flying circuses" across the country. 
     This is how the Henry Ford staged two biplanes from that era – a 1917 Curtiss Canuck with a wingwalker upside down over a 1915 Laird, which is being piloted by a woman, Katherine Stinson.  It made for an eye-popping exhibit.

     To help make ends meet as they toured the country, barnstormer pilots were often sponsored. The Canuck is sponsored by "Heddon's, Dowagiac, MI” as indicated on its tail.   

Lest there be any question about what Heddon’s makes, the rest of the airplane is painted like a fishing lure! (Heddon lures are still sold today.)

      Katherine Stinson was part of an aviation family and the 4th woman to earn her pilot’s license in the U.S.  The exhibit refers to her flying in China!  I wish I had taken a closeup of "her" face as she's flying the Laird - it reflects pure joy and excitement.

         The exhibit contains bleachers for museum visitors to rest and really take in what’s going on around them and overhead.  These two visitors from the barnstorming era never leave and are popular with photographers. 

      Part of the barnstormers’ schtick was air racing and that entertainment has continued to evolve to this day.  This is the Dayton-Wright racer, built for a race in 1920.  It was very unique because it had a single wing in the biplane era,  it has no windshield – the pilot can only see out the side of the plane – and it had lever-operated retractable wheels.   It was very odd to see an airplane with no windshield!
      The airplane began the race as planned , but had to pull out when a cable broke.  It never flew again.
       Our last aircraft for today's blog is the Detroit News autogiro (sometimes spelled "autogyro,") the first autogiro (a.k.a. a “rotorcraft”) built for commercial use.  It’s a 1931 Pitcairn PCA-2 built by the Dayton-Wright Company and powered by the overhead rotary wing with two small wings for stability. 

     Because of it's ability to semi-hover, the newspaper used it for aerial photography and promotion, including one involving dropping golf balls onto a golf course!  Amelia Earhart attempted to be the first to fly one across the U.S. but was beaten to that milestone.  She did set an autogiro altitude record in 1930 that stood for 16 months. Many thought the autogiro would be the next big thing in personal aviation, but fixed wing continued to dominate.  
     Next week, we'll talk about record setters including one more bit on Lindbergh (he's everywhere, he's everywhere...) and what else can be found in the Henry Ford.

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