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, March 29, 2013

140 Blog Entries

     Today's blog is the 140th I've had the privilege to write and post here for the CAF Red Tail Squadron.  I'm pleased to say that the entries appeared week after week with no break.  Some were short and others quite long.  The topic choices were left to me, and my favorite entries were sharing visits to aviation museums I'd been able to visit during my travels.
     When I started writing the blog (and doing the weekday Twitter-y tweets), I had been associated with the Red Tail Project (our old name) since 2006.  I was a professional freelance writer who loved airplanes and had the good fortune to fall in with a group of people committed to a goal I could fully relate to.  It involved American heroes, a vintage airplane and education.  
     That hasn't changed, but my life has.  My guy, Mike, and I are now basically retired and want to be able to travel whenever we'd like. (If you've been following this blog recently, you know that we really have been putting the miles on since Thanksgiving of last year.) Writing deadlines don't fit into this nomadic life very well, and it's not fair to the Squadron team to have to adapt to my schedule.
      On the plus side, although this is my last blog entry, I'm happy to report that the blog is going to continue.  The Squadron team is delighted to have Californian Karen Strong join them because she has more than 16 years of experience in all aspects of public relations and marketing communication and is a whiz at social media.  
     Even better, she's an aviation enthusiast who has hands-on experience with air shows.  She's the public relations and marketing director of the California Capital Air Show in Sacramento which is presenting its 8th show in 2013.  Karen led the show's team and personally contributed to the development of their new website which won the large show first place marketing award at the 2012 ICAS Convention.  She is looking forward to supporting the CAF Red Tail Squadron's educational mission with her experience and enthusiasm.
      Thanks for reading (and please keep it up!). 

      Robyn Feld, newly minted private Squadron supporter, signing off.

By the way, the Mustang and RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit are on maintenance break this week.  However, they will be back on the air show circuit at the New Smyrna Beach (Florida) Balloon and Sky Fest starting next Friday, April 5.  If you're in the area, please stop by or share this information with folks you may know who live in the area.  It's a fun air show, and some name acts will be there, too.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that operates as part of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information about the Squadron and its educational mission, visit www.redtail.0rg.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Tuskegee Airmen Nat'l Historic Site: Part 3 - The Cadet Experience

    The cadets in the Tuskegee-based flight training program were all black men.  However, like their white counterparts at other flight training facilities of the time, they were also "green" when it came to flying for the U.S. military.
     The training program at Tuskegee was designed to turn them into combat-ready pilots.  The record of the Tuskegee Airmen proves that the program did its job.
     For the cadets, part of their program included getting into good physical shape.  The aircraft used in WWII required strength of mind and body to fly.  Many of the cadets were not in fighting trim when they arrived and during preflight training, half of their time was spent in physical conditioning!
    The other half of their day while in preflight was spent learning the basics of wartime flying: flight theory, navigation, radio procedures, physics and aircraft identification.  The cadets had to be able to identify the airplanes flown by the Allies, too.  The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site curators recreated a classroom as it was set up to teach the cadets, complete with narration that starts when a visitor enters the room.  These airplane silhouettes were hung from the ceiling.  See any you recognize?

     Coca Cola got into the act (that's a P40-F Warhawk with stats at the bottom).

     Instruction was very detailed - even the uniforms that German military personnel wore were studied.

     The cadets also needed to be mentally prepared to go to war. In their new line of work, they were going to kill other human beings.  There was also the possibility that they could be killed, too.  Any way you look at it, that's a big mental adjustment to make.  The flight program included "Know Your Enemy" lessons.  
Red area is USSR and its allies, blue are western Allies, and black are Axis countries, including Vichy France.
     They also had to learn about America's Allies.

     Daily and weekly news publications that covered the Allies' war efforts were displayed on bookstands in public areas, along with war-related books and pamphlets.  The cadets were strongly encouraged to read them regularly in order stay up to speed with how the war was going.  It was also a subtle way to get them thinking like warriors.

       Once preflight instruction was complete, flight instruction started.  At the Site, the curators have also recreated a Cadet Waiting Room, complete with narration so visitors can understand what they are seeing.  Cadets would wait for their flight instructors in this room.
      Airplane assignments and weather updates were listed on the board.
     Flight maneuvers were outlined on the board, too.

     The cadets talked among themselves about flying in that room and everywhere else.

     The flight instructors worked hard to ensure that each cadet received the attention he needed in order to succeed.  This copy board at the Site is linked to a system that lets visitors hear what it was like to teach these young men directly from five of the flight instructors.

      While the cadets were working in earning their wings, the mechanics were keeping the airplanes in tip-top shape.  This is an example of the chart used to keep track of each airplane when it needed repairs or maintenance.

    Each pilot had to gain enough flight proficiency to solo and then ultimately complete a cross-country flight before he could graduate from primary flight instruction at Moton Field.  After graduation, the pilot moved on to secondary flight instruction at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF).   In all, 966 cadets received their wings at Moton.
     This 3-part series only touched on some of what I saw on a visit to the Tuskegee Airmen National History Site last month.  I would encourage you to experience it for yourself if you're ever in central Alabama. Admission is free and satisfaction is certain.

Where's the Traveling Exhibit These Days?
     The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is finishing up a visit to the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas.  It will be there today and tomorrow; hours are 9-5.  

     The Traveling Exhibit will next be appearing at the New Smyrna Beach (Fla.) Balloon and Sky Fest April 5-6.  The rig and Mustang were there last year and were hugely popular.  I was still living in Florida at that time and helped welcome and register visitors.   They put on a fun show and we hope to see you there.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that operates as part of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information about the Squadron and its educational mission, visit www.redtail.0rg.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Tuskegee Airmen Nat'l Historic Site: Part 2 - The Prep

     Black cadets for the new segregated military flight training program didn't just show up at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama one day.  The runup to "opening day" involved a lot of work by others before the first class of 13 could get off the ground in the summer of 1941. 
     Once the decision was made to set up the new flight school in Tuskegee, a training airfield had to be built.  The contract to build the airfield and initial buildings went to Alexander & Repass, an Iowa firm that was owned by a black engineer and contractor named Archie A. Alexander.  Construction at Moton started in the summer of 1941, just about the time that the first class of cadets class were starting classroom training. The company had a deadline to complete the project, but heavy rain and bad drainage affected the workers' ability to grade the airfield and construct the outbuildings.  Students and others at the Tuskegee Institute stepped up and helped the workers out so that the aviation training facility could open in the fall of 1941 as scheduled.      
     The new facility was named for Dr. Robert R. Moton, the second president of the Tuskegee Institute (Booker T. Washington was the first).  Dr. Moton retired in 1935 after 20 years as T.I. president; he died in 1940. He had been a strong proponent of offering aeronautical training at T.I. and the programs he helped develop resulted in T.I. being the only black educational entity approved to offer the Civilian Flight Training Program.  Having the CFTP active at T.I. was directly related to Tuskegee being chosen for the flight training program that produced the Tuskegee Airmen.
     Interestingly, the runways at Moton Field were not paved - they were grass.  Given the wear that the runways got - remember that each cadet got 60 hours of flight training at Moton; that's a LOT of takeoffs and landings! - they became rutted which affected how the students' airplanes behaved (see last week's blog entry about some airplanes breaking!).  
     When the Stearman P-17 biplanes got to Moton, people had to be ready to maintain them, no matter if the problem was airframe or mechanical in nature.  Any delay in keeping the planes airworthy would negatively affect the cadets' progress through the program.  This meant that mechanics had to be trained at Tuskegee.

    The mechanics were required to use their own tools so entering the Tuskegee mechanics training program meant a financial commitment up front.  Many women - all black - also completed the airplane mechanics program at Tuskegee.  They got just as greasy and worked just as hard as the male mechanics did.

    This picture gives a good idea of how the mechanics worked on every part of the airplane.

     As mentioned previously, the airplanes took a beating as newby pilots learned to fly. ALL supplies were requisitioned from the USAAF, including new wings and other airplane parts.  The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site museum has a special display that shows how the mechanics tried to repair a damaged wing before having to requisition a new one. 

     A special shed on the grounds held the compound  - called "dope" - that was used to rebuild wings (see center section of the wing above to get an idea of what it looked like after the dope was applied - I was reminded of duct tape, but it wasn't nearly that easy to work with).  

     While the field was being built, flight instructors were hired or assigned to the Tuskegee program. Many were military, but some were not.  Many were black, but some were not. Fortunately, all were motivated.  The Site features information about many of the flight instructors who worked with the Tuskegee program, and their credentials are impressive. Like the majority of WWII pilot candidates, many of the Tuskegee cadets came into the program with no previous flight experience so the instructors played a key role in their success.
     Next week, the final entry in this series will cover what the cadets at Tuskegee had to learn in order to become U.S. military aviators.  HINT:  It wasn't just about the flying.

The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit Is Still Doing the "Howdy All y'All" Thing in Texas 
The Traveling Exhibit is still welcoming visitors at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport in Houston today and tomorrow.  Hours are 1o a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Next Tuesday through Saturday, the Traveling Exhibit will be at the Cavanaugh Flight Museum in Addison, Texas.  Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that operates as part of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information about the Squadron and its educational mission, visit www.redtail.0rg.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Tuskegee Nat'l Historic Site - Environs

     The parking lot at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (NHS) is poised above still-active Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Moton Field is where the pilots who would become known at Tuskegee Airmen took primary flight training. This quasi-birds' eye view is a great way to get oriented to the buildings that house the history.     
     The Museum is in Hangar 1.  The original Hangar 2 burned down, but another "Hanger 2" on the site houses the brick control tower. (Another part of the museum is scheduled to open in that building this fall.)   There are a number of surviving outbuildings onsite as well so it helps to read the plaques at the top before going down the hill to see everything.

     The Park Service also tried to give visitors a sense of what is missing.  I was impressed with how effectively they "displayed" two of the now-missing barrack buildings.

      Upon entering the FREE museum, you're greeted by smiling people sitting at a desk.  This day, National Park Services Guide Carla Graves (right) and volunteer Kathleen Colson were there to answer questions and distribute brochures and other materials.  There are a few items for sale (proceeds benefit the Site), but that's pretty low key.  Walking the site is fairly easy but, if needed, wheelchairs are available on a first come/first served basis.

    The information in the lobby area sets the stage for what you'll find in the museum just around the corner.  I was personally delighted to see two of the large pictographs that were featured on the Rose Parade float that honored the Tuskegee Airmen on January 1, 2010.  (I went to Pasadena and worked on the float.) Made of seeds and other organic materials and measuring about 5 feet tall, that's Chief Flight Instructor Charles Alfred "Chief" Anderson on the left and Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. on the right.  The museum features lots of information on those two men, both of whom played such key roles in the success of the pilot training program at Moton Field.

     The photo above also reflects how the information is displayed in the museum.  Large panels with photos, quotes and descriptive copy about various aspects of the flight training and aircraft maintenance are set up throughout the space.  There are also side rooms that are dedicated to specific topics.
     One map in the lobby shows the states from which the aviation cadets came; many hailed from northern states.  Once you're in Alabama yourself, you start to get an idea of what it probably have felt like for them to come to the deep South - with its regional traditions and racial attitudes - after growing up in areas of the country that had more liberal attitudes toward black Americans.

   This quote from a lobby display sums up the pressure put on the pilot cadets to succeed and helps visitors to the NHS better appreciate what they are about to see:

     About the first thing you notice after entering the museum are the parachutes hanging from the ceiling.  Parachutes were periodically unfolded to dry out and this is exactly how they were hung during training.
Back then
    The museum houses two airplanes - a Piper Cub J-3 and a Stearman P-17.  They are pertinent to the Tuskegee Airmen story.   
     This type of Piper Cub was used in pre-war flight training as part of the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) at the Tuskegee Institute.  Charles Alfred "Chief" Anderson gave First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt a ride in a J-3 in 1941 when she visited the Institute to review the CPTP and other programs.  That experience cemented her belief that black Americans should be given the opportunity to fly and fight as military pilots.  She was instrumental in urging the policy changes that gave the Tuskegee flight training program its start.
     The P-17 Stearman was the biplane that gave the cadets their first taste of flying.  In all, they got 60 hours of flight training. The P-17 was sturdy while also being fairly easy to fly so the inevitable hard landings wouldn't break it. (Don't laugh - at one point, the powers-that-be decided to use Fairchild P-19s to train the cadets, but those airplanes' plywood midsections had a tendency to split if the aircraft bounced during landing (and sometimes even if the landing was a good one.)  Moton also required a faster rate of climb than the P-19 could safely manage so the Stearman was brought back as the primary trainer of choice.)

    There's also a LINK trainer.  This workhorse flight simulator gave cadets the opportunity to hone their skills in the air while remaining firmly on the ground.  This one is missing the bellows system that made the sim experience feel so much like the real thing.

      This photo of the museum floor doesn't begin to show the full scope of the information presented in the museum or how creatively it is done.  We'll delve into the nuts and bolts of the cadets' experiences at Tuskegee next week.

Where's the rig this week?
We have a quiet weekend coming up, but next week the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be in Houston, Texas.  Starting Tuesday, March 12 and going through Saturday, March 16, the Traveling Exhibit will be set up and open to the public at the 1940 Air Terminal Museum at Hobby Airport.  Hours are 10 a.m. until 5 p.m. each day.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that operates as part of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information about the Squadron and its educational mission, visit www.redtail.0rg.

Friday, March 1, 2013

The Beginning - Training At Tuskegee: Part 1

     After writing for the CAF Red Tail Squadron for six years, I considered myself to be fairly well-versed in the story of the Tuskegee Airmen.  When Mike and I visited the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Tuskegee, Alabama on Wednesday, that presumption went out the window.  To my surprise, I also had an emotional reaction to being at the place that literally launched the pilots and most of the support crew into the war in Europe.
      Today is our first day on the road (again).  This time, we're driving from Florida to California, hauling a 28-foot travel trailer that we bought in Florida last December in anticipation of this very trip. The visit to Tuskegee was the highlight of what we hope is our last drive to Florida for a while after just three days at home in Minnesota after the last trip up from Florida. To say it's been a crazy schedule is an understatement.  To say I'm tired doesn't quite cover it. 
     As a result of my personal stars aligning as they have, I'll ask your indulgence with today's blog.  There will be no pictures until next week because wi-fi coverage has been hit-or-miss (mostly the latter) and downloading the dozens of photos I took will take time.  There will be no lengthy descriptions of what the Site and Museum have to offer because the pictures are really needed to add depth to the descriptions.  What I can do is throw some things out for you to look forward to in this series about the Tuskegee Airmen NHS:
  • The person who taught parachute rigging to the pilot trainees and others was a woman
  • The Site's museum is housed in Hangar 1 at Moton Field, which is still a working airport
  • Fire was a constant danger at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF)
  • There was a tea room at TAAF
  • By design, the pilot cadets were taught more than how to fly
   That's not a lot of information, but I hope you'll find it intriguing enough to look forward to next week's blog entry. I was completely entranced by what I saw and heard on our visit to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and will do everything I can to creatively share that information with you over the next three (or so) blogs.

Where's the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit these days?
     The Traveling Exhibit is finishing up a week at the Carolinas Aviation Museum in Charlotte, North Carolina today and tomorrow.  The Museum is waiving its admission fee for those 18 and younger while the Traveling Exhibit is there.  Click here for more information.
     Next Tuesday through Thursday, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit will be at the Southern Museum of Flight in Birmingham, Alabama.  Hours are 9:30 to 4:30 each day and the Museum is waiving admission for everyone on those days (donations are still welcome!).  Click here to learn more.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is volunteer-driven 501c3 organization that operates as part of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information about the Squadron and its educational mission, visit www.redtail.0rg.