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The Commemorative Air Force (CAF), formerly known as the Confederate Air Force, is an American non-profit organization based in Dallas, Texas dedicated to preserving and showing historical aircraft at airshows primarily throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The CAF has approximately 13,000 members, over 70 units, and over 170 aircraft. The CAF has the largest collection of airworthy warbirds.
The origin of the Commemorative Air Force can be found in an organization called the "Confederate Air Corps" created by Oscar Harper in Montgomery, Alabama in 1953. Led by the fictional character "Thaddeus P. Throckmorton" and his recruiting officer "Jethro Culpepper", the CAC established several features that later became key characteristics of the CAF: folksy, tongue-in-cheek southern humor; a membership structure based on each member having the equal rank of colonel; and a rallying cry of "Semper, Mint Julep" ("Always Mint Julep").
The P-51D "Red Nose" was the first airplane of the CAF.
In 1957, Lloyd Nolen and four friends purchased a P-51 Mustang, each sharing in the $1,500 cost of the aircraft. With the purchase of the Mustang, known as "Red Nose", the group that became the CAF was unofficially founded. In 1958, the group made their second purchase of two Grumman F8F Bearcats for $805 each. Along with the P-51, this gave the pilots the two most-advanced piston-engine fighters to see service with the U.S. Army Air Forces and the United States Navy.
In 1960, the CAF began to seriously search for other World War II aircraft. The CAF colonels were shocked to find that the aircraft which played such a major role in winning World War II were being rapidly and systematically scrapped as obsolete with no efforts, not even by the Air Force or Navy, to preserve any for display for future generations. The warbirds that remained airworthy were mostly in private hands modified for air racing or had been converted for commercial use as air freighters and aerial firefighters.
On September 6, 1961, the CAF was chartered as a nonprofit Texas corporation to restore and preserve World War II-era combat aircraft. By the end of the year, there were nine aircraft in the CAF fleet. By 1963, the group had achieved their goal of acquiring one of each American World War II fighter plane. Their first airshow was held on March 10, 1963.
The CAF added the B-29 FIFI
in the 1970s
In 1965, the first museum building was completed at old Rebel Field, Mercedes, Texas. The CAF created a new Rebel Field at Harlingen, Texas when they moved there in 1968, occupying three large buildings including 26,000 square feet (2,400 m2) of museum space. The CAF fleet continued to grow. By the end of the decade, the CAF fleet included medium and heavy bombers such as the North American B-25 Mitchell, B-17, Consolidated B-24 Liberator. In 1971, they added one of the two airworthy Boeing B-29 Superfortress, FiFi.
In 1976, the CAF sponsored an air show where a B-29 bomber piloted by Paul Tibbets, the pilot who flew the B-29 which bombed Hiroshima during World War II, reenacted the atomic bombing of Hiroshima (including a mock mushroom cloud). This air show prompted the Japanese government to lodge a formal complaint with the United States Embassy, resulting in the American government issuing an apology.
In 1983, the American Airpower Heritage Foundation was founded to financially support the CAF.
The group's accomplishments were recognized in 1989 when it became a National Aviation Hall of Fame Spirit of Flight Award winner. It was also honored that year when Texas Governor William Clements signed a resolution naming the CAF the air force of Texas.
In 1990, the CAF added two more corporations. The first was the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum, tasked with obtaining and maintaining the CAF's aircraft titles. The second was the American Airpower Heritage Museum, which acquired and maintained the CAF's non-aircraft pieces and static displays.
1991 saw the CAF moving operations to Midland, Texas. Once in Midland, the group opened the American Airpower Heritage Museum facilities and the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame.
In April 2014, the CAF announced the move of their headquarters and all of the planes associated with the headquarters to Dallas Executive Airport in Dallas, Texas. The museum and its artifacts (including the nose art collection) will also be moved to the new headquarters in Dallas.
The CAF C-47 That's All, Brother
was the plane that led the main airborne invasion of Normandy during D-Day
In 2015, the CAF acquired the C-47 That's All, Brother, the plane that led the main airborne invasion of Normandy during D-Day.
Today, the Commemorative Air Force comprises over 12,000 members, including more than seventy regional groups, called wings or detachments, in twenty-seven states and four other countries. Several hundred members actively serve as pilots and flight and/or maintenance crew members committed to preserving American combat aviation heritage. The CAF is an all-volunteer organization, made up of members from all backgrounds. Membership is open to everyone age 18 or older, and cadet membership is available for those over 12 years of age. Although a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, tax-exempt group, the CAF has received financial incentives from state and local governments related to its Dallas relocation as well as its time in Midland.
The American Airpower Heritage Group is the parent organization and is made up of four separate corporations:
- The Commemorative Air Force, which is the membership association
- A foundation, which controls the financial assets and endowment
- A museum, which manages the non-flying artifacts
- A flying museum, which operates the flying aircraft
The original name, Confederate Air Force, started as a simple tongue-in-cheek joke, poking fun at the organization's ragtag beginnings. As the collection of warbirds at Central Valley Airport in Mercedes, Texas, started to grow, someone painted the name on the side of the original North American P-51 Mustang Red Nose. The name stuck, and it grew to the point where the airport was renamed Rebel Field, all members were called "colonels" (a tradition which still remains), and it led to the creation of a fictitious leader named Colonel Jethro E. Culpepper. There was even a humorous CAF twist put to the old AVG Flying Tigers World War II "blood chit" that read, "This foreign person has come to China to help in the war effort. Soldiers and civilians, one and all, should rescue, protect, and provide him medical care." The CAF version seen on the backs of flight suits and flight jackets stated, "This is a CAF aviator. If found lost or unconscious, please hide him from Yankees, revive with mint julep and assist him in returning to friendly territory. CONFEDERATE AIR FORCE."
In November 2000, the group voted to rename, using the initials "CAF" until a permanent name was selected. Following a 2001 membership vote, the group changed its name to "Commemorative Air Force," effective January 1, 2002. Many felt the name Confederate Air Force was confusing, did not accurately reflect the purpose of the organization, and was detrimental to fundraising efforts. According to CAF chief of staff Ray Kinney, "In many people's minds, the word 'confederacy' brings up the image of slavery and discrimination. We, in no way, are associated with that kind of stuff. So, it gives us, in a way, a black eye."
The main objectives of the CAF are:
- To acquire, restore, and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States and selected aircraft of other nations for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.
- To provide museum buildings for the permanent protection and display of these aircraft as a tribute to the thousands of men and women who built, serviced, and flew them.
- To perpetuate in the memory and in the hearts of all Americans the spirit in which these great planes were flown in the defense of our nation.
- To establish an organization having the dedication, enthusiasm, and esprit de corps necessary to operate/maintain/preserve these aircraft as symbols of our American military aviation heritage.
B-24 "Diamond Lil" from the Commemorative Air Force collection. Airframe was returned to B-24A configuration in 2007.
As of 2015 The entire collection of CAF aircraft is known as the CAF Ghost Squadron. Its aircraft range from the small Stinson L-5 Sentinel and Ryan PT-22 to the giant Boeing B-29 Superfortress; the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress; and the Consolidated Liberator B Mk I/B-24A Liberator AM927. Many of the CAF aircraft are rare - the CAF operates one of only two flying examples of the historic Boeing B-29 Superfortress, and the only remaining flightworthy Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Others, such as the B-24/LB-30 Liberator; the Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighter; the Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero; and the Douglas SBD Dauntless are one of only two or three of that type left flying today. The CAF also operates Axis and foreign aircraft such as the MiG 17 Fresco C.
, the CAF owns 166 aircraft, of which 131 are in airworthy condition, 18 are undergoing maintenance, 15 are in restoration, and two are in storage.
Formation pass during the 2008 CAF AIRSHO
AIRSHO is a yearly event at Midland International Airport showcasing the CAF's aircraft. Because its aircraft tend to be spread out over large geographic distances, and most Ghost Squadron aircraft rarely fly more than a few hours from their home base, AIRSHO is also an opportunity for CAF members to meet up. Ghost Squadron aircraft usually attend AIRSHO every other year. The CAF AIRSHO is the largest warbird air show in the world, with more than eighty warbirds flying per show.
Wings and squadrons
The CAF has many wings and squadrons. Starting in 2013, a limited number of larger units may be designated as an "airbase." The first is Airbase Arizona, located at Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ and redesignated in Jun 2013. Most CAF units are in the United States, but there are three outside the country.
US wings and squadrons
- Anchorage — Col Hunt Alaska Wing
- Little Rock — Razorback Wing
- Camarillo — Southern California Wing
- Modesto — Central California Valley Squadron
- Oakland — Golden Gate Wing
- Riverside — Inland Empire Wing
- Sacramento — Sacramento Delta Squadron
- San Diego — Group One Wing
- Upland — FM-2 Wildcat Sponsor Group
- DeLand — Florida Wing
- Pensacola — Floribama Wing
- Shalimar — T-33 Sponsor Group
- Peachtree City — Dixie Wing
- Caldwell — Idaho Wing
- Indianapolis — Indiana Wing
- Council Bluffs — Great Plains Wing
- Kansas City — Heart of America Wing
- Wichita — Jayhawk Wing
- New Orelans — Big Easy Wing
- Red Wing — Red Tail Squadron
- South St. Paul — Minnesota Wing
- Madison — Mississippi Wing
- St. Charles — Missouri Wing
- Bozeman — Big Sky Wing
- Las Vegas — Nevada Wing
- Reno — High Sierra Squadron
- New Jersey
- Forked River — Delaware Valley Wing
- New Mexico
- Albuquerque — Lobo Wing
- Enid — Lady Liberty Squadron
- Guymon — Cimmaron Strip Wing
- Oklahoma City — Oklahoma Wing
- Oklahoma City — Sierra Hotel Sponsor Group
- Tulsa — Spirit of Tulsa Squadron
- South Dakota
- Sioux Falls — Joe Foss Squadron
- Memphis — Delta Blues Squadron/Memphis Squadron
- Aransas Pass — Maxine Flourney 3rd Coast Squadron
- Brownsville — Rio Grande Valley Wing
- Burnet — Highland Lakes Squadron
- Conroe — Gulf Coast Wing
- Corsicana — Coyote Squadron
- Dallas — P-40 Sponsor Group
- Dallas — Redbird Squadron
- Dallas — Training Detachment One
- Dallas — WASP Squadron
- Fort Worth — B-29/B-24 Squadron
- Fort Worth — Invader Squadron
- Gainesville — Ground Forces Detachment
- Georgetown — Devil Dog Squadron
- Graham — Cactus Squadron
- Houston — Houston Wing
- Lancaster — Dallas/Fort Worth Wing
- Marshall — Lone Star Wing
- Midland — Blastards Detachment
- Midland — High Sky Wing
- Midland — West Texas Wing
- Odessa — Desert Squadron
- Pealand — Tora Sponsor Group
- San Antonio — Tex Hill Wing
- San Marcos — Centex Wing
- Franklin — Old Dominion Squadron
- Culpeper — Capital Wing
- Everett — Rainier Squadron
- Janesville — Tri-State CAF Wing
- Superior — Lake Superior Squadron
- Waukesha — Wisconsin Wing
- National units
- EOD Detachment
- Marshalling Detachment
- Security Detachment
International wings and squadrons
- Saint-Ange-le-Viel — French Wing
- New Zealand
- Auckland — New Zealand Wing
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