Commemorative Air Force Blogs

Welcome to the Commemorative Air Force Blogs. A great way to stay informed about what is going on with the CAF.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

Make plans to attend a special event to honor legacy of Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is excited to announce that they will again participate in the Tuskegee Airmen Legacy Open House, two days of FREE events in Alabama June 22 and 24 in commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the 100th Fighter Squadron, one of the first squadrons of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen – our country’s first black military pilots.

Experience the thrill of flight at this family-friendly event featuring modern and vintage aircraft in the air and on the ground, plus hands-on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) activities and more. All ages are welcome!

This is the third annual event organized by Legacy Flight Academy, a non-profit organization that conducts character-based youth aviation programs that draw upon the LEGACY of the Tuskegee Airmen. The group’s founder, United States Air Force Major Kenyatta Ruffin, is a fighter pilot who is dedicated to developing and leading innovative programs that help young people experience first-hand the exciting opportunities in aviation, aeronautics, engineering, technology and the military.

On Thursday, June 22, visit the National Tuskegee Historic Site at historic Moton Field in Tuskegee for an Open House from 2:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.

On Saturday, June 24, join the 187th Fighter Wing and 100th Fighter Squadron of the Alabama Air National Guard at Montgomery Regional Airport for an Open House from 9:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. (Please, no backpacks, coolers or pets at the June 24 event.)

To ignite excitement and build a deeper understanding of aviation-related career opportunities, this exciting event will feature military aircraft on static display for hands-on and interactive viewing, up-close sights and sounds of aircraft in flight, an American flag skydiving exposition, and guest speakers sharing insights on careers in the military and the aerospace industry. Career opportunities are continuing to expand in aviation, and Legacy Flight Academy wants young people to understand what those are and how to create a path to achieve their dreams.

Visitors will also have the opportunity to experience the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, a mobile movie theater featuring the original film “Rise Above” about the inspirational history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen. 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, the iconic aircraft of the Tuskegee Airmen in World War II.

Come join us for this exciting and inspirational event, celebrating the birthplace of the legendary Tuskegee Airmen!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Do you have Tuskegee Airmen artifacts? The CAF Red Tail Squadron wants to talk to you!

Journal pages of Harold BrownThe CAF Red Tail Squadron needs the help of our fellow CAF units. We are looking for artifacts, mementos and memorials of the Tuskegee Airmen!

We hope to create a virtual showcase of these personal items to further humanize the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen which will help people better relate to them and learn more about these important Americans. World War II may be slipping farther into the past, but, as we all know, the lessons to be learned from the Tuskegee Airmen are TIMELESS!

Here's what we need from you. If you have any artifacts (items from a uniform, log books, notes, medals, anything physical that belonged to an original Tuskegee Airmen) or know of any memorials, please get in touch with us. We will collect a photo and information from you that will be used to launch this new project and help make it a success.

Do you have any artifacts or know someone who does? Or are there any at your local air museum? Give us a call or email!

Reach out to darcy@redtail.org or (203) 297-4994. Don't wait! We need your help now!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Joint mission rallies, inspires kids with message of the Tuskegee Airmen

Bill Shepard, CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and Vice President of Education for the Commemorative Air Force, shares his thoughts on a recent event in Detroit that made a big impression on local youth. Thanks Bill for your hard work and dedication to honor the Tuskegee Airmen and inspire people through their story!

As a member and supporter of several entities that honor the Tuskegee Airmen –Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum and the Commemorative Air Force Red Tail Squadron – I’ve had the opportunity to collaborate with several groups, while wearing multiple hats (or as a warbird pilot, should it be parachutes?!).

Bill Shepard at Coleman Young airport eventIn May, I represented the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen in a joint mission with the Detroit TAI chapter and the National Museum to support this summer’s air show and open house at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. This location plays an important role in the history of the Tuskegee Airmen experience, and when the call came to participate in their educational event, I agreed that this was a great opportunity for collaboration to engage kids and the community with our important message. Working together, that message was even more impactful.

The event at Coleman Young Airport gave local students a chance to experience many new aspects of aviation. They learned about both civilian and military aviation-related careers, including exciting opportunities outside the cockpit that they may not have considered or known about.

Giving kids the chance to touch, feel, hear and see a warbird up close is exciting and inspiring itself, but these aircraft help to humanize the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen and are a tangible way for young people to relate to something that ordinarily may seem too far removed from their modern life.

Together, we were all able to collectively utilize our passion and understanding of the Tuskegee Airmen’s legacy to help infuse these young people with inspiration to make good choices and set and pursue high goals for themselves. This is the power of the Airmen’s narrative, and the power of our organizations to be such a strong force for positive change in our communities.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron will also be in the Detroit area for several other events this year, including Focus: HOPE and Thunder Over Michigan. The Selfridge open house will be held August 19-20, and will include the CAF’s RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit mobile movie theater and the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen. We will be at the event to continue to share the stories of the Airmen at this historic home of the Tuskegee Airmen’s 477th Bombardment Group.

We’re proud to show our support for the youth of Detroit. Thanks to all the members and volunteers who made this joint mission a success!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Robert Friend

The history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is inspirational to people of all ages. Their life lessons can impart a special meaning for people from all walks of life. From a child in awe of a red-tailed airplane, to the elderly veteran full of gratitude for their fellow war heroes, there is something in each of their stories that can inspire us all to live better, fuller and braver lives.

One such hero is Robert Friend, one of the oldest living original Tuskegee Airmen pilots.  Born in Columbia, South Carolina in 1920, Friend was interested in aviation from a young age. He read stories of World War I pilots in old magazines and made his own makeshift airplanes for imaginative play. Friend had wanted to enlist in the Army to fly for our country, but was turned away. Even though the country was making preparations for war, black Americans could not join the Armed Forces to serve as pilots.

While a student at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania – the first historically black college to grant college degrees – he took aviation-related courses. When the Civilian Pilot Training Program began in 1939 for college students, Friend eagerly applied and was accepted. He completed the program and earned his private pilot’s license. But this was only the first step to becoming a military pilot. When the program opened an opportunity for a segregated pilot training program at Tuskegee, Friend finally had his chance to join the war effort and earn his wings for his country.

Robert Friend young photoAfter successfully completing all phases of training, he was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and assigned to the 301st Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group. By that time, the country had officially entered the war. When he deployed overseas, Friend was first sent to North Africa, then to the Europe Theater as a Combat Operations Officer at the squadron and group levels. He was responsible for planning and organizing the implementation of strategic and tactical air missions.

He was a skilled pilot in the P-47 and P-51 aircraft. He flew wing man for Benjamin O. Davis Jr., who would later go on to be come the first black general of the United States Air Force. He flew 142 combat missions in World War II. His service extended in several other capacities during the Korean and Vietnam wars. He finished his education at the Air Force Institution of Technology.

His career with the Air Force included serving as Assistant Deputy of Launch Vehicles, working on important space launch vehicles such as the Titan, Atlas and Delta rockets and the Space Shuttle. He served as a Foreign Technology Program Director where he identified and monitored research and development programs related to national security. He was also the Director of the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Program, tasked with investigating unidentified flying objects.

After retiring from the military, his expertise was utilized to oversee the design and production of space products for the Space Shuttle program, lead a company that creates components for the International Space Station and other satellite systems, and direct the research and development for USAF weapons and missile programs.

When Friend was in the air during World War II, he flew a P-51D Mustang, slightly different from our P-51C model. A D model, painted up with his original “Bunny” bathing beauty, has been on static display at the Palm Springs Air Museum for a number of years, but had an extensive overhaul to make it airworthy once again, taking it’s first flight in decades in February 2015.

Although identical, this particular aircraft was not the one Friend flew, but was built near the end of the war and never saw combat. It’s almost certain that the P-51D Friend piloted himself never made it back to the states. When the war ended, it was too much trouble to return many of the combat aircraft to the U.S. and they were commonly scrapped in Europe, or if they were returned to the states they were sold to civilians for very little.

Also of credit to this inspirational Tuskegee Airman, Friend is an active participant in Ride 2 Recovery, cycling events that benefit mental and physical rehabilitation programs for our country’s wounded veterans. Friend himself has ridden in the events, and plays a large role in helping to bring awareness to the program.FullSizeRender

Want to try to keep up with this active veteran? Follow him on Facebook to see what he’s up to and where he will be next.

Lt Col Friend, we salute you for your decades of service to our country, and for inspiring future generations to pursue their dreams and make a difference, just like you and your fellow Tuskegee Airmen.

RISE ABOVE!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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Units team up to bring inspiration to school in need

In April, several CAF units hit the road for Kansas City, Missouri to bring their message to a school that was especially in need of the kind of inspiration only CAF can provide. The team effort included Vice President of Education Bill Shepard and members of the new Red Bird Squadron, Heart of America Wing and Red Tail Squadron. Shepard was particularly eager to bring the program back to an area he used to call home, and infuse a local school in need with this important piece of history.

Leaders and volunteers from Friendship Baptist Church set out last fall on a “Power of Positive Change” campaign for George Melcher Elementary, organizing programs to help improve the overall culture of the school. Their efforts were based around the Red Tail Squadron’s Six Guiding Principles, based on the life lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen. The CAF’s special event was the pinnacle of the church’s work at the school this academic year.

Dr. Merlyne Starr, longtime supporter of the Red Tail Squadron and volunteer at Friendship Baptist Church, is credited with the idea behind the campaign, building it upon the Six Guiding Principles and inviting the CAF to participate in the final event.

What better way to educate and inspire students to rise above their own obstacles, just like the Tuskegee Airmen, than to bring the excitement of aviation direct to their doorstep! Students were treated to attention-grabbing activities like CAF’s interactive C-47 That’s All Brother cockpit simulator. Stepping inside, students got a sense of what it’s like to be in command of a real cockpit, in an aircraft that led the Allies in the invasion of Normandy. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit’s mobile panoramic movie theater gave them the sights and sounds of the Tuskegee Airmen and their aircraft.

“CAF units worked together to expose these kids to something they have never seen before and most likely would not have access to,” said Shepard. “Melcher Elementary is a school with some of the greatest challenges, and it was an honor to partner with the volunteers of Friendship Baptist Church and support their program to help change the culture and future of this school. We both believe in the power of the Tuskegee Airmen to inspire students to rise above their own obstacles and achieve success.”

The event’s organizers were impressed not only by what CAF brought for the students, but by their dedication and enthusiasm.

“The CAF volunteers and staff had a wonderful attitude about working with our youth,” said Dr. Mary Long, co-chair of the Positive Change Campaign and owner of the Kansas City-based Diversified Leadership International. “They were so friendly and focused on their interactions with the children. We observed our students realize new goals and dreams for themselves, and change their way of thinking.”

Melcher students rotated through six unique stations designed to emphasize the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen, including CAF’s new “Flight Plan for Life” activity. Based on the premise that every pilot needs to have a well organized and thought out plan in order to have a successful mission, so does a young person. This goal-setting activity helped the students create a path to success while articulating their life goals.

“Our Wing understands the need and importance of educational outreach, and the opportunity to be involved in this event fit perfectly with that,” said Jarrett Bertoncin, PIO and Safety Officer for the Heart of America Wing. “We are building out our own education program, and working on follow-up plans at the school. We’re hopeful to tie in the Air Power History Tour with these students and the Rise Above message.”

Actor Willie Minor, of the HBO original film “Tuskegee Airmen,” also made a special appearance and brought another rousing element to the event. He gave the kids a fantastic real-life message about being a “champ or a chump”…. and the only difference is “u”! Members of the Kansas City chapter of the Black Pilots of America were also on hand to guide the students and share their perspectives.

“We are very excited about the opportunity to share how the Tuskegee Airmen have shaped American history,” said Melcher Elementary Principal Patricia Hayes. “The program taught valuable principles – like always believe in yourself, never quit, don’t be afraid to think – to our students in a unique, inspirational format.”

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at www.redtail.org.

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