Rise Above Traveling Exhibit Spotlights Tuskegee Airmen

Commemorative Air Force initiative aims to educate young people about overcoming obstacles.

Rise Above
Retired U.S. Air Force Officer Alexander Jefferson is one of several Tuskegee Airmen who can be found answering questions at the Rise Above Traveling Exhibit. Jefferson was shot down while flying a Red Tail P-51 over southern France and captured by the Nazis, who kept him in captivity for nearly a year.Courtesy Gary Chambers

In the past few years, the Commemorative Air Force has turned more and more toward educational pursuits directed to inspire a younger and more diverse group. The Rise Above Traveling Exhibit is an initiative that aims to motivate youth to overcome challenges through education about major obstacles that some groups of people were working against during the World War II era.

The initiative sprung from the Red Tail Project, a traveling exhibit that uses a fully contained movie theater to highlight the 332nd Fighter Group, the all-African-American squadron that proved to the world that, yes, black men were highly capable of flying in combat missions previously prohibited to this segment of society.

The incredible story of the perseverance of the Tuskegee Airmen is told through the Red Tail Project’s professionally created movie at airshows and schools around the country. In many cases, visitors get to see and touch CAF’s Red Tail Mustang and talk to surviving Tuskegee Airmen who are often in attendance.

The Red Tail Project was spurred by a man named Don Hinz from the CAF's Minnesota Wing. It was Hinz's vision to use a restored P-51 to inspire children to achieve their dreams despite any challenges that may stand in their way. The Red Tail Squadron was born in 2001 around a P-51 named Tuskegee Airmen. Tragically, Hinz crashed in 2004 when the airplane suffered an engine failure.

At that point it was time for the Minnesota Wing to rise above the tragedy, and with Doug Rozendaal at the helm, the Tuskegee Airmen P-51 and the Red Tail Project were brought back to life.

Following on the concept of exceptional stories in which a group had to overcome major challenges during the WWII era, the next Rise Above Traveling Exhibit will highlight the Women Airforce Service Pilots and its incredible achievements — a project led by former F-16 pilot Heather Penny.

CAF President and CEO Steve Brown plans to implement the Rise Above Traveling Exhibit initiative locally by making the movies available at CAF units around the country.