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Red Tail Squadron
Location Organization
The Red Tail Squadron
Commemorative Air Force
310 Airport Rd., Hangar 3
South St. Paul, Minnesota 55075

Aircraft home base[1]
Hangar No. 3
Fleming Field
310 Airport Road
South St. Paul, Minnesota

The Red Tail Squadron, part of the non-profit Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and until June 2011, known as the Red Tail Project, maintains and flies a World War II era North American P-51C Mustang. The twice-restored aircraft flies to create interest in the history and accomplishments of the members of the World War II-era 332nd Fighter Group, also known as the Tuskegee Airmen, whose distinctive red markings on the tails of the P-51s they flew during that war, gave the organization its name.[2] The all African American 332d Fighter Group originally flew 15,000 missions as bomber escorts in the Mustang; eventually the Airmen, who were originally shunned in the white military, acquired the right to fly combat missions. In 1970, the Commemorative Air Force acquired an original P-51 to include in their educational program. In 1980, Don Hinz took charge of the aircraft's restoration, and developed the idea of the Red Tail Project, named for the distinctive red paint on the Airmen's aircraft.[3] Originally conceived as a restoration project, Red Tail evolved into an education program. Although the P-51 was restored, mechanical failure caused a crash and the death of the pilot, a retired U.S. Navy commander; the Tuskegee Airmen endorsed and encouraged the aircraft's second restoration, and the newly restored P-51C made its debut at AirVenture 2009 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.[4]

Since the 1990s,[5] the Red Tail Squadron has raised over $2 million (US) for the aircraft's two restorations, its ongoing maintenance and associated educational programs. The Mustang has been featured in two documentary films: Red Tail Reborn, and Flight of the Red Tail.

The Tuskegee Airmen[]

Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, known as Tuskegee Airmen, at Ramitelli Airfield, Italy.

The Tuskegee Airmen /tʌsˈkɡ/[6] is the popular name of a group of African American pilots who fought in World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the US Army Air Corps. This was the first unit of African American military aviators in the United States armed forces. During World War II, in much of the United States, African Americans were still subjected to Jim Crow laws 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 received the Congressional Gold Medal,[7] 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,[8][9] recent research has revealed they lost 25 bombers.[10]


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Tuskegee Airmen

A single nosed-propeller aircraft is in mid-flight above land. The red nose faces right and the underside of the aircraft is slightly in view. The aircraft has black propellers, gray base paint, and black letters reading: "A42". The "4" and "2" are separated by a United States roundel in black with a central white star. The roundel is also visible on the tops of the wings. The full length of the right side of the aircraft is visible.
A single nosed-propeller aircraft is on the ground on its wheels with the propeller in motion. The aircraft is viewed from the front, but the red nose faces slightly to the right. The aircraft has black propellers. Parts of the wings and propellers are cropped from view.
A close-up view of the front half of a single nosed-propeller aircraft is in mid-flight above land. The red nose faces left and the cockpit is in view from the top. The aircraft has dark propellers that are barely perceptible because of their high speed, gray base paint, and black letters reading: "A4". The word: "TUSKEGEE" is visible on the nose of the aircraft and other lettering and insignia can also be seen at higher resolutions. The "4" is followed by a United States roundel in black with a central white star.
Images of "Tuskegee Airmen", a restored World War II P-51 Mustang flown by Red Tail Project

At the conclusion of World War II in 1945, The United States Army sold off military surplus and for $1 ($13.1 today) Montana State University in Bozeman, Montana bought a P-51C aircraft, which it parked on its campus in front of the engineering building.[11] 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.[12] 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.[11]

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 channeled his energy and talents into the emerging Red Tail project.[11] The aircraft is now one of only four existing P-51C Mustangs in existence.[13] As one of the four flying Mustangs, it is worth $2.5 million.[14]


The Commemorative Air Force, which has approximately 9,000 members and a fleet of 156 aircraft, is an educational association with the purpose to pay tribute to American military aviation through flight, exhibition and remembrance. It has been collecting, restoring and flying vintage historical aircraft for more than half a century.[15] In the 1990s, the CAF's Minnesota Wing began restoring a P-51 that many branches of the CAF organization had attempted to restore but found the task beyond their capabilities.[16] The P-51C once served Capt. Andrew "Jug" Turner.[17] Pilot Don Hinz, a retired United States Navy commander based at Fleming Field in South St. Paul, Minnesota, heard of the project and enlisted some experts as well as named the effort "The Red Tail Project".[16] Originally, the restoration was attempted at Fleming Field.[18] After soliciting the assistance of outside contractors from North Dakota, the aircraft was airborne in May 2001. The P-51C, which was named "Tuskegee Airmen",[19] was included in numerous air shows to tell the history of the pilot group.[20][21] From May 2001 to May 2004, the aircraft flew before more than an estimated three million people.[22] By 2004, Hinz envisioned an educational program around the restored aircraft. In a May 2004 show 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.[4] A tree damaged in the crash fell on Hinz, causing head trauma from which he did not recover.[16][23][24][25]

a gray baseball cap with light red brim. The cap has a Red Tail Project logo and the brim has several autographs.

Red Tail Project baseball cap

The Tuskegee Airmen decided to restore the aircraft.[16] The five-year restoration occurred at Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton, North Dakota.[26] 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.[13][27] 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.[13][14] The rebuilding continued with the mounting of the engine in 2008 and the mating of the wing in 2009. On July 22, 2009,[15] 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.[16][28] The aircraft has also served a tribute via military flyovers for fallen Tuskegee Airmen.[29]

In 2011, the volunteer-driven organization changed its name from the "Red Tail Project" to the "CAF Red Tail Squadron" and also completed construction of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit as an additional tool to help tell the story of these pilots and their support personnel (who are also known as Tuskegee Airmen). The Mustang and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit appear together at air shows, and the Traveling Exhibit also goes to schools and other youth-oriented venues.[30]


P-51 in a heritage flight over Langley Air Force Base

After the 2004 crash, the restoration became the impetus for a nation-wide 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.[31][32] 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.[14] White also completed a sequel, Flight of the Red Tail, a 12-minute film released in 2009.[33] The restoration, completed in 2009, cost $1 million.[34] In 2005, the Red Tail Project, which is not for profit,[35] sought to raise about $2 million to fund the initial restoration.[36] The organization held several types of events to raise funds.[37] Since then, community-based organizations adopted the project.[38] For example, in Wahpeton, North Dakota, where the aircraft was restored, each August, the "Red Tail Run" is held. This motorcycle and vehicle run, which starts at the Harry Stern Airport, raises money for the project.[39][40] In 2008, the organization hired Fund Raising Strategies, a fund raising specialist firm, to develop a direct mail fund raising program.[41]

The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit[]

The Red Tail Project endavors to preserve the legacy of the airmen through aviation education.[42] Going forward, the group made plans in 2009, to add a mobile exhibition in the form of a semi-trailer truck and a 53-foot (16 m) semi-trailer.[16] The name of the educational traveling exhibition program is entitled "RISE ABOVE". It is intended to precede the Red Tail Project P-51 exhibitions.[15]

The "RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit" was introduced at EAA AirVenture 2011. It consists of a 53-foot (16.2 m) long semi trailer and tractor. The trailer, which has colorful graphics on all four sides, has expandable sides and houses a 40-foot (12.2 m) long, curved IMAX movie screen plus comfortable seating for 30 guests; it is also climate controlled. An original IMAX movie called RISE ABOVE, developed and filmed specifically for the Red Tail Squadron and the unique movie screen, is shown.[43] The traveling exhibit goes to air shows with the Red Tail Project Mustang and spends 40 weeks per year at schools and places where young people congregate. The idea is to take the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, and how they overcame so many obstacles by setting goals and working to meet them, directly to the students who can benefit from hearing about the Airmen's experiences. The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is sponsored by the Texas Flying Legends Museum.[44]


  1. "Daily Briefing". St. Paul Pioneer Press. August 5, 2009. p. B2. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  2. Harden, Mike. "Not One To Take 'No' For An Answer, Bill Watkins Walks Again". The Columbus Dispatch, May 5, 1999. p. 01E. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  3. Harrison, Christine. "Historic homecoming for Tuskegee Airmen as site opens". Air Force Historical Research Agency, August 16, 2008. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Brooks 2005, p. 43.
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  10. "Report: Tuskegee Airmen lost 25 bombers". Montgomery, Alabama: USA Today, April 1, 2007. Retrieved 6 January 2010. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Red Tail Reborn, 2007, Hemlock Films.
  12. "Trivia for Red Tail Reborn (2007)". Retrieved December 31, 2009. 
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Ferraro, Nick. "History Soars Again - A Rebuilt WWII Airplane Carries The Memory OF Pilot Donald Hinz And The Story Of The Tuskegee Airmen". St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 6, 2009. p. B1. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 Hevern, Erin C. "‘Red Tail Reborn’ to air on PBS Feb. 14". The Daily News (North Dakota), February 12, 2008. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 "Page 2 Read: CAF P-51C Tuskegee Airmen is airborne again". The Odessa American, July 29, 2009. p. A2. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 16.3 16.4 16.5 CAF, p. unnumbered
  17. Hockaday, Laura R. "Bride and groom pilot a new course". The Kansas City Star, August 23, 1998. p. H9. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  18. Ngo, Nancy. "Flying Together//During World War II, Black Pilots Called The Tuskege Airmen Saved Many Lives. Now, The Airmen Are Being Recognized At A Local Aviation Expo For Their Service". St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 8, 1999. p. 1B. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  19. "Region News:WWII plane returns: A re stored World War II airplane is returning to its hangar in South St. Paul today after a five-year absence.". Grand Forks Herald. August 5, 2009. p. A8. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
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  21. "Prescott prepares for air fair to celebrate centennial of flight". Green Valley News & Sun, August 15, 2003. August 15, 2003. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  22. Doss, Robert. "Red Tail Project takes flight again". Palos Verdes Peninsula News, August 22, 2008. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  23. Bjorhus, Jennifer. "Woodbury Pilot Crashes - 60-Year-Old's Injuries Critical After Rare WWII Plane Faces Trouble". St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 30, 2004. p. B3. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  24. McKinney, Matt. "Pilot in air show crash dies - He avoided striking any homes". Star Tribune, May 31, 2004. p. 1B. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  25. Pattison, Kermit. "Air Show Pilot Dies Of Crash Injuries - Donald Hinz Had Restored Mustang Fighter He Was Flying". St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 31, 2004. p. B1. Retrieved December 12, 2009. 
  26. Walsh, Paul. "Plane used to tell the story of Tuskegee Airmen is back". Star Tribune, August 5, 2009. p. 3B. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  27. Hevern, Erin C. "Beck honored by N.D. Aviation Hall of Fame". The Daily News (North Dakota), January 2, 2008. p. B1. Retrieved January 25, 2010. 
  28. Ferraro, Nick. "History Soars Again - A Rebuilt WWII Airplane Carries The Memory Of Pilot Donald Hinz And The Story Of The Tuskegee Airmen.". St. Paul Pioneer Press, August 6, 2009. p. B1. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
  29. "Tuskegee Airman Vernon Hopson services scheduled". Nashville Pride, September 11, 2009. p. 1B, 7B. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
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  33. Nolan, John. "Local headlines". Dayton Daily News, October 29, 2009. p. A11.. Retrieved January 1, 2010. 
  34. Walsh, Paul. "Plane used to tell the story of Tuskegee Airmen is back". Star Tribune, August 5, 2009. p. 3B. Retrieved December 26, 2009. 
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  40. Johnson, Jennifer. "Run benefits memory of Airmen, Beck." The Daily News (North Dakota), August 25, 2009. Retrieved February 23, 2012.
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  • 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.

External links[]

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