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, January 25, 2013

Hangar 3, Fleming Field

     On a recent frigid Wednesday afternoon (well, OK - two days ago...), Mike and I dropped in at the CAF Minnesota Wing's wonderful 1940's era Quonset-style hangar at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota.  I had a wonderful time taking pictures of the work going on and Mike enjoyed getting acquainted with the airplanes and meeting some of the people who give their time to keeping the Wing's wonderful group of vintage airplanes flying. 
     The B-25 Mitchell "Miss Mitchell" towers over all the other aircraft in the hangar any time of year, but this shot gives a sense of how full that hangar is right now.  

     Some volunteers were replacing a cylinder in one of the Mitchell's engines.  

     We checked out the open bomb bay doors and I was intrigued to see these two pictures taped to the forward "wall" of the bomb bay.  I'm sure they meant something to somebody!

      This was stenciled on the back wall.  Talk about stating the obvious!

     Seeing the tail gunner's exposed position up close really brings home what the brave kids who flew this airplane and fired guns to protect it accomplished during WWII.

     Next stop was the Squadron's P-51C Mustang.  Gary Chambers' pictures of the work being done on her were featured on Facebook earlier this week so I decided to focus my camera on unusual things I saw there.  This was my favorite - a new use for paper towels!

     Neatness counts only as a way to keep track of airplane parts stored around and under each one.  
      The Mustang's nose art and other up-front metal really stacked up.

      The Wing has just gotten a donation of a Ryan L-17 Navion and Wing leader Amy Lauria was scrubbing at 60+ years worth of glue and other substances on its console.  CAF restorations are truly done from the ground up and exhibit extremely high quality, even in those areas that cannot be seen.

      Speaking of seeing, it's not every day that you can see clear through an AT-6 Texan!

     Or a Stinson Sentinel's nose...  It looks like it's butted up to the Mustang's red tail, but there's enough room to maneuver around both airplanes (barely).
     The Ryan P-22 Recruit's unique 5-cylinder radial engine configuration stands in stark contrast to its exposed innards.

      The Wing has a couple of new displays as well.  This Link Trainer was crated for some time, but is now being restored.  Edwin Link invented the flight simulator, which he patented in 1931.  He originally thought they would make good amusement park attractions ("fly without leaving the ground") and this was the case for a while.  However, after a series of accidents, in 1934 the U.S. government purchased six unitsto help train air mail pilots to fly using instruments in bad weather.  Unfortunately, the Japanese government also bought some in 1935 and their pilots trained with them, to the detriment of our own fighting aviators six years later.
     As WWII fighting spread and the U.S. needed to train thousands of pilots, more than 6,300 Link trainers were purchased to help with that goal. (I'd be willing to bet that my Dad spent some time in a Link during his training to be a B-26 pilot!)  35 foreign countries also used Link trainers at some point.

      A newly restored drone is now on display overhead.  This piston-powered Radioplane OQ-19 target drone is a fairly early version of a series of drones developed starting in the late 1940s. 
     Finally, also overhead, a new mural is being painted by another talented Wing volunteer.  It recaps WWII events starting with Pearl Harbor on the left and ending with that famous kiss on V-J Day on the right.  The middle portion is yet to be painted, but it's obvious this will be a great addition to the Wing's hangar and museum.

     The Wing, in Hangar 3 at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota opens its hangar to the public on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m.  Between the airplanes and the various displays, like this one about the Tuskegee Airmen, it's a great way to spend a couple of hours.  And don't worry - the place is heated!

      Speaking of the Tuskegee Airmen, did you know that our educational partner Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. sponsored a float in this past Monday's Presidential Inaugural Parade?  It featured a P-51 Mustang. While the nose art was similar to the CAF Red Tail Squadron's own P-51C Mustang, TAI Inc. chose to recreate a bubbletop P51-D.  To see the float, click here and move the timer under the small video screen to 1:15 after clicking on the triangle in screen to start the video rolling.  The float will be shown just after the Grambling State University marching band moves past the viewing platform.   Everyone, including President Obama, applauds for an Airman who was evidently close by, but I wasn't able to catch his name.

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, January 18, 2013

Very Hard Landings

      I try to keep the tone of the blog on the light side because a.) there’s enough sad and icky stuff in the regular media and b.) I’m a pretty upbeat person.  Having said that, this week’s blog, in which I will at share information about the aviation industry that I find interesting and think my readers will as well, will also touch on private airplane crashes, which are never a happy event.  I say that because even if the pilot walks away, an airplane has been badly damaged or destroyed, causing heartache for the owner.

The Crash
     There was a plane crash on Friday, January 4, in a town just north of where we live.   A Bonanza H-35 (N375B), built in 1957, attempted to glide to the small Palm Coast (Fla.) airport after the engine quit, but ended up going through the roof of a home, killing the pilot and both passengers.  The woman in the home miraculously got out OK.
     As is to be expected, the local media gave this unfortunate event a lot of attention.  It had all the elements of a dramatic story:  solid citizens (the pilot was a teacher, the two passengers were engaged to be married) in a harrowing situation over which the pilot had no control (rough weather and an airplane with engine trouble).  The tower personnel were extensively quoted and the radio dialog between the tower and the pilot was transcribed for readers to share.   People who saw the airplane getting lower and lower as it neared the airport were also interviewed.
     As always happens when an airplane crashes, an investigation as to the cause has begun.  The pilot reported a vibration and smoke in the cockpit, and then while following instructions from the tower to get to Palm Coast, indicated in one short, sad sentence that he had “zero oil pressure.”  Throughout the last minutes of the flight, the pilot was also dealing with heavy clouds that affected his ability to know where he was in relation to the airport or, indeed, anywhere to land (beach, road, field, etc.) 

The Investigation
     Every airplane crash is assigned an IIC – Investigator-In-Charge.  This individual can be from a government entity or private company.  The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is in charge of this investigation so the IIC is an NTSB employee, Terry Duprie.  As is typical of an airplane crash investigation, Duprie stated it could take up to a year to find a cause of this crash.
     The NTSB is typically the “go-to” agency for airplane crash investigations.  A lot of people think that the FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – investigates crashes.  This is not the case.  The FAA manages flight regulations so in some cases, they contribute to investigations by determining if laws or aviation safety issues were ignored.  The FAA does track and publish “incidents” through its huge ASIAS (Aviation Safety Information and Analysis System) database.  The incident database itself has it Accident Incident Data System, with the unfortunate acronym “AIDS”…  

The Other Agencies
     Other agencies can get involved in airplane crash investigations but only as needed:
-          FBI: Gets involved if a possible national security breach is indicated by the crash situation
-          ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organization): Produces and manages protocol to follow if the crash involves two or more countries
-          Local police and rescue groups: Retrieves and treats injured victims and gathers remains of those who perished; fights any fires or hazardous material spills that may result from the crash.  Also assists in retrieving airplane parts post-crash.
-          Airplane manufacturers and operators, insurance companies, OSHA, the EPA, news media and independent consultants may also be called upon to assist in the investigation.

The Outcome
    The NTSB typically gathers information from eyewitnesses and others as needed, including those entities in the list above.  Each party writes up its findings and submits it to the NTSB.  The NTSB reviews them all, writes up its own report and then loads the report into its publicly accessible database.  The NTSB makes every attempt to just report information and keep bias out.  If appropriate, it will make safety recommendations to outside parties (aircraft manufacturers, air traffic controllers, the FAA, etc.) that those entities may decide expand into rules for future flight safety.
     The pilot in the Palm Coast crash was so close to the airport when the airplane went down it just breaks your heart. If as a result of the investigation, something is found that would encourage one other pilot do something differently to safeguard him/herself and anyone flying with him/her, it would be a very good thing.
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, January 11, 2013

Three Merlins

Merlin The Wizard

      Like a lot of female types, I have been entranced by the romantic story of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.  In my case, for a very long time - since there was a black-and-white TV series called “The Adventures of Sir Lancelot” on in the mid-1950s.  (I looked at the available pictures online and Lancelot wasn’t nearly as cute as I remembered as an 8-year-old…)
     Anyway, as I got older, my allegiance moved from the king and queen and knights to Merlin, the wizard who assisted young Arthur in his quest to be king of England.  In the book, “The Once and Future King,” by T. H. White, Merlyn (as it is spelled in the book) is Arthur’s (a.k.a. “Wart” – is that a great nickname or what?!?) muse and guide.  He is at once full of magic yet very human.  Additionally, Merlyn is caught in a spell that makes him “youthen” so that, unlike regular men who age, he, who once grew old, gets younger again as the years pass.  While this seems to be better than dying of old age, it also means he knows what’s going to happen – the good and the bad - because he already lived it! 
     Walt Disney retold part of that story in the animated movie “Sword In The Stone.” The film did a great job showing how Merlin changed Wart into a number of living objects – including a type of virus – so he could experience what a fish, squirrel, and sparrow deal with in their daily lives.    Here is a quote about those lessons from the book:  “My boy, you shall be everything in the world, animal, vegetable, mineral, protista, or virus, for all I care - before I have done with you - but you will have to trust my superior backsight. The time is not yet ripe for you to be a hawk... so you may as well sit down for the moment and learn to be a human being.”
     Note that Merlyn refers to his “backsight” – which is part of his youthening process: he remembers what happened last time around.
    Another quote from the book – which was published in 1958 - touches directly on World War II. In this case referencing Hitler: “There was just such a man when I was young—an Austrian who invented a new way of life and convinced himself that he was the chap to make it work. He tried to impose his reformation by the sword, and plunged the civilized world into misery and chaos.”

Merlin the Engine
     With that acceptable segue from Merlin the wizard talking about Hitler, we’ll move into a discussion of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine and WWII – Hitler’s “legacy” as it were.  The Squadron’s P-51C Mustang is powered by one of those engines.  They are a rarity today, but in the days prior to and during WWII, they were one of the “go to” engines for aircraft.
     The Merlin was developed in England by the Rolls Royce company and first ran in 1933. The first production models came out in 1936.  Two British warplanes that were powered by the Merlin - their Avro Lancaster four-engine heavy bomber and the Spitfire fighter.  Rolls Royce made a habit of naming their piston-powered aero engines after birds of prey and the Merlin eventually gave way to the Griffon.   Other engines had names like Kestrel, Vulture and Peregrine.
    The Merlin that powers the Squadron’s red-tailed P-51C Mustang is the Rolls Royce (Packard) liquid-cooled V-1650-7 engine.   It can develop 1,490 horsepower and anyone who has ever heard it knows how fabulous it sounds. 
      That engine has been silent for some time now because the engine hour meter indicated that maximum hours on the engine had been reached.  There is no repair or maintenance that can be done to keep the engine airborne – the engine must be replaced, to the tune of $235,000.   The Squadron has no one “wizard” to wave a wand and give us the money.  Instead, it depends on people magically deciding that what we do to help educate school children and others about the pioneering Tuskegee Airmen, aviation, American history and self-reliance is valuable.  If you’d like to be one of our magicians, you can click here to make a tax-deductible donation directly to the engine fund.  And thank you.

Merlin’s Swan
     John Joseph Merlin was a “wizard” in his own right in the late 1700s.  He was a watchmaker who invented wheelchairs, weighing machines and other practical things.  In 1773, he, along with another Londoner named James Cox, created an “automaton” – a silver mechanical swan.  This true-to-life sized machine is housed at the Bowes Museum in County Durham, England where it delights visitors when it is wound up and “performs” once every afternoon.  I love how it appears to find a fish and eat it.   You can see it in action here.

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, January 4, 2013

Flyin' at EPCOT

     Mike and I went to Walt Disney World's EPCOT the Thursday before Christmas. We needed a break from house emptying/moving activities and with Orlando so close and Mike having never been there, it seemed like a good place to spend a day (and $89 apiece to get in plus $14 to park...).
     We did a lot of walking and quite a bit of "riding" as well.  Rides ranged from a slow boat ride through a garden that uses a lot of futuristic growing strategies to Soarin' with the very real sensation of hang gliding over parts of California.   That was our first "flying" ride of the day, but would not be our last.  In all, four of the rides we experienced involved a sense of flying - Soarin', The American Adventure,  Mission: SPACE, and Ellen's (DeGeneres) Energy Adventure.  There were other rides that also had the you-are-actually-doing-this feel, but we only had a day there so were selective.
     I hadn't been to EPCOT - "Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow" -  since the 1990s, but it was as I recalled:  a lot to do and see in a relatively small area so walking it was not obnoxious.  The park has two sections - Future World and World Showcase.  Future World is strictly Disney-esque with lots of creative interactive exhibits in six pavilions (build your own rollercoaster, direct music,  play games, etc.) and non-traditional, fun rides.  There's even a huge aquarium with manatees - you don't see that every day, even in Florida!
     World Showcase meets Disney "standards" regarding being clean with friendly staff, but is focused on presenting various "lands." Canada, United Kingdom, France, Morocco, the U.S., Italy, China, Germany, Norway and Mexico are all represented.  Each features native architecture - France has a short Eiffel Tower, Mexico a Mayan pyramid, Germany a picturesque market square and so on.  Each also has at least one restaurant with food from the country.  We didn't try it, but we heard from many people that the French patisserie (bakery) had numerous hip-expanding delights!
     We ate brats on buns with sauerkraut in Germany for lunch and it was fish and chips in the United Kingdom for dinner.  That meal had the extra bonus of having "Mary Poppins" available across the walkway for those that wanted pictures taken with her.  It appears that there is no age or gender that does not enjoy that activity! It was a hoot to watch the adult guys be persuaded to pose and then really get into it, hugging "Mary" and mugging for the camera.
     We ate dinner late so it was dark and the lights were on all over.  We sat on a park bench overlooking the central lake - the different lands are arrayed around the lake - enjoying the lights and talking with another couple as we ate our dinner and fed the insistent ducks (they gobbled french fries like pros).  The food was well prepared but, as is to be expected, pretty pricey once you add in the drinks.
     I enjoyed all of the rides we experienced, but Soarin' and Mission: SPACE  were the best in my opinion.  With Soarin', you sit in a block of seats that lift off as the movie starts.  The seats turn and move in sync with what you see onscreen.  There is a gentle wind blowing in your face and as you "sail" over an orange grove, you can smell the oranges.  As with all good rides, it was over too soon. 
      There were two levels of rides available for Mission: SPACE.  One was for those who wanted to really experience the ride and involved spinning in a centrifuge (yikes!).  Mike and I opted for the gentler one, but it had its moments, too.  Four people get into each "capsule" and each is expected to push buttons on cue to "assist" the mission.  That's no biggie but when the seats are reclined and you can see the launch tower (you're at the bottom) and the rockets "ignite" (and the seats move) and the capsule is "launched," I couldn't resist a "woohoo"!  I would go on that ride again in a heartbeat. 
      My son and his family are going to Disney World in March and my daughter's family went last year.  I'm glad Mike and I got to do at least one Florida park together before heading north.  We're planning a trip to California later this winter - I hear they still have the original Mission: SPACE at Disneyland!

      In case you hadn't heard, most of the Squadron team attended the ICAS (International Council of Air Shows) annual convention in Las Vegas in December.  Air show managers are booking the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and the P-51C Mustang for their events, even into 2014 already.  Our first event is set for February - hard to believe that's just next month already.  Time flies when you're having fun!

 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