The sound of a warbird’s Merlin engine is nothing short of hypnotic. For many pilots and aviation professionals, the P-51 Mustang is the most exciting illustration of American airpower from days long gone, but not forgotten. Coupled with the history of the Tuskegee Airmen – our country’s first African American military pilots and their support personnel – this iconic red-tailed fighter represents not only a war well fought, but also a triumph over racism and bigotry. And now their legacy lives on in the digital age through the CAF Red Tail Squadron Virtual Museum.
For almost two decades the non-profit CAF Red Tail Squadron been committed to telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to honor their history and legacy, and also to inspire people of all ages to rise above their own challenges and achieve their goals. It started out with a scrap heap of a P-51 and a dream to bring the message of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America. Along the way, countless people have been touched by their programming in the air, on land and also online.
Their P-51C Mustang, aptly named Tuskegee Airmen, was first fully restored to flying condition in 2001, making a steady schedule of appearances at airshows across the country. In 2011, it was joined by their innovative mobile movie theater, the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, which could take the message off the tarmac, so to speak. This panoramic theater on wheels showcases an original film about the Tuskegee Airmen to educate and inspire, as an airshow attraction and at places the Mustang cannot go, like schools, museums and community festivals.
Hitting that niche of kids and adults that don’t have the opportunity to come to an airshow or one of their events, the CAF Red Tail Squadron has dedicated many years to curating historically accurate information and materials about the Tuskegee Airmen on their website. Ensuring a robust, easily accessible digital footprint has been an important benchmark for fostering knowledge and enthusiasm for these groundbreaking and inspirational historic figures.
An important leap forward was the advent of the CAF Red Tail Squadron Virtual Museum that “opened its doors” last Fall. This online repository of artifacts, artwork and memorials aims to explore the humanity of the experiences of the Tuskegee Airmen, so people of all ages can gain a deeper understanding of the positive impact of their service to our county.
“World War II and the service of these American heroes may be slipping farther into the past, but the lessons to be learned from the Tuskegee Airmen are timeless,” said CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and CAF Vice President of Education Bill Shepard. “We know there are so many people who are passionate about the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and have tangible pieces of this important history, right in their own homes. You can share that knowledge and inspire those who want to know more by including a photo of your Tuskegee Airmen artifact in our Virtual Museum, and play an important role in our mission, without your item ever leaving home.”
Not a physical collection, the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s Virtual Museum is a community collaborative effort, made up of photos and information of artifacts pertaining to the Tuskegee Airmen submitted from all around the country. Anyone with an item of significance to the Tuskegee Airmen, or has visited the location of a memorial in tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, can share their knowledge by submitting to the Virtual Museum through a portal on the website.
Throughout 2018, those who submit an item for consideration will be entered in the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s monthly drawing for a prize as well as a grand prize drawing at the end of the year. This promotion is the Squadron’s way of saying thank you to the community of supporters who are working together to make the Virtual Museum an important destination for gaining a personal, human perspective of the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen.
“We are enormously proud of this endeavor and how well it has been received,” said CAF Red Tail Squadron Marketing Director LaVone Kay. “Our work started out with one airplane, meticulously restored to be able to educate people about the Tuskegee Airmen. Through perseverance and the goodwill of our supporters, our message of inspiration has flourished far beyond our humble beginnings. The Virtual Museum is another tool we’ve facilitated to honor this important piece of African American history, and inspire people with the incredible story of the Tuskegee Airmen.”
In addition, the Squadron provides extensive educational resources for students, teachers, youth leaders and anyone looking to learn more and be inspired by these remarkable American trailblazers. In additional to rich historic content, teachers and youth leaders can download a free RISE ABOVE Resource Kit from their website to augment their own history or social studies lesson planning.
The excitement of aviation is a powerful tool and the CAF Red Tail Squadron has built upon this platform to help educate and inspire people about the Tuskegee Airmen. Their dedication to their mission has resulted in hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors through the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit and countless more who’ve been enthralled by the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen at airshows around the country. Their commitment to being an accurate, accessible and inspiration resource for all things related to the Tuskegee Airmen has been at the forefront of their planning operations.
To participate, support their efforts or learn more, visit. www.redtail.org.