CAF’s “Tuskegee Airmen” and Rise Above Exhibit Celebrate Decades of Inspiring Youth

Warbird organization celebrates 20-year anniversary of P-51C restoration and 10-year anniversary of Rise Above Tuskegee Airmen exhibit.

The Commemorative Air Force celebrated the 20th anniversary of its restoration of a P-51C named Tuskegee Airmen and the 10th anniversary of its Rise Above outreach program at EAA AirVenture 2021 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Both milestones celebrate the CAF’s efforts to celebrate the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen—a group of African American pilots who became known for their historic efforts in World War II after previously being prevented from flying military aircraft.

The Restoration

The group’s plans to highlight the story of the Tuskegee Airmen began in the early 1990s with the Red Tail Squadron, a group spearheaded by volunteers from the Minnesota Wing of the CAF. They were restoring a WWII P-51C Mustang, which they named Tuskegee Airmen. This particular P-51C was used as a combat trainer, hence the two-seat configuration.

The Mustangs configured for combat had one seat. The Tuskegee Airmen P-51s were easily identified by their red tails—leading to the original 99th Fighter Squadron’s nickname, the Red Tails.

The restored Tuskegee Airmen took its first flight on May 10, 2001. It made its first public appearance a little less than two months later on July 2 at Fleming Field in South Saint Paul, Minnesota. Later that month, the Mustang appeared at that year’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

The Outreach Program

Retired Navy pilot and entrepreneur Don Hinz expanded on the Red Tail Squadron concept and spearheaded an educational program to bring more public light on the extraordinary efforts of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The program was named “Rise Above.” Sadly, Hinz died in the crash of a P-51C in 2004. Still, the mission lived on through Rise Above squadron leader Doug Rozendaal.

“He knew this was not about an airplane,” Rozendaal said regarding Hinz at a ceremony for his induction into the CAF Hall of Fame in 2017. “[The airplane] was a tool we needed to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a great leader and an incredible guy.”

Under Rozendaal’s leadership, the Rise Above exhibit made its debut at EAA AirVenture in 2011, with a traveling exhibit that includes a large-format movie highlighting the history of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Since then, Rozendaal and his team have expanded on the concept and created another Rise Above exhibit for the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

Both the Tuskegee Airmen and WASP broke through racial and gender barriers in their quest to participate the United States war efforts in World War II. Rise Above uses their inspiring stories to inspire children to reach for their dreams regardless of any perceived barriers.

EAA AirVenture visitors had a chance to see Rise Above at KidVenture last month. Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s schedule for the traveling exhibit is limited as it continues through the rest of 2021.

See For Yourself

If you missed Rise Above at AirVenture, you still have two opportunities to check it out.

  • Rise Above’s Red Tail exhibit will be available at the Flightline Group aircraft sales and service facility at the Tallahassee Airport in Tallahassee, Florida, from November 2 to 6.
  • On November 13 and 14, you can see both the Red Tail and WASP exhibits at the Stuart Airshow at the Martin County Airport/Witham Field in Stuart, Florida.

The Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site, in Tuskegee, Alabama, also makes for a great destination for pilots.

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