Red Tail Squadron
|Focus||The inspirational history of the Tuskegee Airmen|
|Website||CAF Red Tail Squadron|
The CAF Red Tail Squadron (formerly the Red Tail Project) is a non-profit educational outreach group that is committed to telling the inspirational story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American military aviators that made their mark during World War II. They maintain and fly a World War II-era North American P-51C Mustang, take their RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit mobile movie theater to events around the country throughout the year, and maintain robust educational resources on their website at www.redtail.org.
The mission of the CAF Red Tail Squadron is to educate people of all ages about the Tuskegee Airmen so their strength of character and ability to triumph over adversity may serve as a means to inspire others to rise above obstacles in their own lives and achieve their goals. Woven throughout their outreach program, the group’s Six Guiding Principles – Aim High, Believe In Yourself, Use Your Brain, Be Ready To Go, Never Quit and Expect to Win – were developed alongside documented original Tuskegee Airmen to inspire students to rise above their own obstacles.
The Tuskegee Airmen
The Tuskegee Airmen // is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group and 477th Bombardment Group of the US Army Air Corps. There are also sometimes referred to as the Red Tail Angels or Red Tails, unofficial terms that were used during the War to describe the mostly unknown group of Airmen because of the distinctive red paint used on the tails of their fighter aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first unit of African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, African Americans were still subjected to Jim Crow laws in portions of the United States and the American military itself was racially segregated. Legal and social prejudice prevented the Airmen from flying combat missions. Despite their adversities, the Tuskegee Airmen flew with distinction: In 2007, 350 Tuskegee Airmen and their widows were awarded a collective Congressional Gold Medal, and the airfield where they trained has been designated as Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Although some sources claimed the Airmen had a perfect record in their 15,000 missions as bomber escorts, recent research has revealed they lost 25 bombers.
P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen
At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, the United States Army sold off military surplus and for $1 ($13.6 today) Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana bought a P-51C aircraft, which it parked on its campus in front of the engineering building. According to the Red Tail Reborn Internet Movie Database page, in a prank, drunken students taxied the aircraft around the campus in the late 1940s. Thereafter, the aircraft was secured to the ground with steel and concrete. Otherwise, the P-51C was essentially left alone in Montana, except for an occasional coat of silver paint. In 1965, when the University wanted to add a parking lot, restorer Lloyd Creek bought it from the University for $1, provided that he could remove it from the campus in 24 hours of notification in winning the bid. To move the P-51C promptly to Billings, Montana necessitated the removal of the wings, which were sawed off with a circular saw. When the aircraft arrived in Billings, the wings were reattached to the fuselage.
In 1970, frustrated with restoration efforts, Creek donated the P-51C to the CAF, which disassembled the aircraft and shipped it to the organization's home base in Texas. While awaiting restoration, the aircraft endured a hurricane described erroneously in the documentary as Hurricane Beulah, although that storm was an earlier, 1967 storm. Regardless, a hurricane exposed numerous parts of the aircraft to seawater damage. Several CAF volunteers attempted to rehab the aircraft in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Texas, Council Bluffs, Iowa, and finally in the late 1980s at the home of the Southern Minnesota wing of the CAF, which had just completed the restoration of the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber, Miss Mitchell.
After noting the P-51C was in need of restoration, Don Hinz, a retired Naval aviator, channeled his energy and talents into the restoration and helped found the Red Tail Project, now known as the CAF Red Tail Squadron, along with members of the CAF Minnesota Wing. Originally, the restoration was attempted at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota. After soliciting the assistance of outside contractors from North Dakota, the aircraft was airborne in May 2001 more than 45 years after it had been in service. The P-51C, which was named "Tuskegee Airmen", was included in numerous air shows to tell the history of the pilot group. From May 2001 to May 2004, the aircraft flew before more than an estimated three million people. Hinz envisioned an educational program based on the restored aircraft and set a goal to get the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America.
Unfortunately, at a great loss to the organization and entire aviation community, Hinz lost his life in an accident caused by an engine malfunction of the Tuskegee Airmen at an airshow in 2004. At an airshow in Red Wing, Minnesota, the camshaft drive of the Rolls Royce Merlin engine failed. Although Hinz successfully landed the aircraft between two houses in a residential suburb, both wings were ripped off and the body was badly damaged. A tree damaged in the crash fell on Hinz, causing head trauma from which he did not recover.
The aircraft was fully restored a second time and returned to the skies in 2009, a testament to the group’s perseverance and belief in its mission. The five-year restoration occurred at Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton, North Dakota. In 2007, Gerry Beck, one of the primary restorers, was in a fatal collision of his P-51A and a P-51D during AirVenture 2007. Beck was the owner of Tri-State Aviation, but about a half dozen other CAF volunteer aviation mechanics contributed to the effort to pick up where he left off. The rebuilding continued with the mounting of the engine in 2008 and the mating of the wing in 2009. On July 22, 2009, four days before AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the P-51C had its first flight. Then, it was flown to Wisconsin for its public debut. After the show it returned to Minnesota with a 6 AT-6 escort. The aircraft has also served a tribute via military flyovers for fallen Tuskegee Airmen.
The P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen is one of only four existing P-51C Mustangs in flying condition. It is flown in numerous airshows around the country and is available for up-close viewing on static display at events throughout the year to educate people about the Tuskegee Airmen and inspire them through their remarkable story.
RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit
In 2011, the volunteer-driven organization completed construction of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit as an additional tool to help tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is a mobile movie theater featuring the original film “Rise Above.” It creates an immersive experience, housed in a climate controlled 53’ semi trailer with expandable sides and equipped with a ramp and hydraulic lift to ensure access to all, comfortably accommodating 30 visitors for each showing. Admission to the Traveling Exhibit is always free.
Because of its dynamic 160-degree panoramic screen, the film creates the feeling of being in the cockpit soaring above the clouds in a P-51C Mustang. “Rise Above” was created by Emmy Award-wining filmmaker and aviation cinema specialist Adam White of Hemlock Films, who also created the film “Red Tail Reborn,” documenting the two restorations of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen.
The Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit appear together at airshows, and the Traveling Exhibit also makes special visits to schools and other youth-oriented venues. in 2016, the celebrated its fifth year in service, and at that time had completed visits to 36 states in the continental United States.
After the 2004 crash, the restoration became the impetus for a nationwide fund raising effort and attracted the attention of Adam White, an independent film maker who was, at the time, filming a documentary on vintage aircraft restoration called The Restorers. He was attracted to both the aircraft and the cause, and his 2007 historical documentary, Red Tail Reborn won Emmy Award recognition in his home state of Ohio, where it was first broadcast in February 2007, and, subsequently released on DVD in March of that year. Narrated by Michael Dorn of Star Trek fame, himself a pilot and warbird owner, the film documents the difficulties of the restoration of the P-51C and the travails of the Tuskegee Airmen. The following year PBS picked up the film in its Black History Month programming. White also completed a sequel, Flight of the Red Tail, a 12-minute film released in 2009.
The restoration, completed in 2009, cost $1 million. In 2005, the Red Tail Project, which is not for profit, sought to raise about $2 million to fund the initial restoration. The organization held several types of events to raise funds. Since then, community-based organizations adopted the project.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron was founded on the objective to carry the lessons and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America. In addition to the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, utilized for tours and private showings for schools and groups around the country, the Squadron curates and provides educational resources for students, teachers, youth leaders and anyone looking to learn more and be inspired by the Tuskegee Airmen. All materials are available on their website for free.
- RISE ABOVE Resource Kit – A free kit of activities, presentations and information for use by teachers and youth leaders, available for download on the CAF Red Tail Squadron website.
- Aim High: The Aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen – A free iBook that contains sound effects, slide shows and interactive content.
- Tuskegee Airmen Essay Contest – An annual free contest for students in grades 4th through 12th. Submissions are accepted at any time on their website with winners selected each February. Awards are given in three grade categories.
- Virtual Museum – An online repository of items belonging to or used by Tuskegee Airmen, including a catalogue of public memorials and artwork.
- Tuskegee Airmen history online – The CAF Squadron website offers comprehensive, in-depth, historically accurate information about the Tuskegee Airmen curated and maintained by the CAF Red Tail Squadron staff and historical advisors.
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- Brooks, Philip. The Tuskegee Airmen. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Compass Point Books, 2005. ISBN 978-0-7565-0683-4.
- O'Leary, Michael. North American Aviation P-51 Mustang (Osprey Production Line to Frontline 1). Oxford, UK: Osprey, 1998. ISBN 978-1-85532-703-0.
- Red Tail: Rising Above Adversity To Fly Again. St. Paul, Minnesota: Commemorative Air Force.
- Ross, Stan and Cindy Bergquiat. Don Hinz and the Red Tail Project. St. Paul, Minnesota: Office of Aeronautics, Minnesota Department of Transportation, 2006.
- Tillman, Barrett. "Tales of the Red Tails; Inside the Tuskegee Legend: The men, the machines, the missions." Flight Journal, February 2012.