The Commemorative Air Force (CAF), formerly known as the Confederate Air Force, is a Texas-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and showing historical aircraft at airshows primarily throughout the U.S. and Canada. The CAF also has extensive aircraft collection on static display at the American Airpower Heritage Museum at Midland International Airport, located in Midland, Texas.
The origin of the Commemorative Air Force dates back to 1951, with the purchase of a surplus Curtiss-Wright P-40 Warhawk by Lloyd Nolen, a former World War II Army Air Forces flight instructor. In 1957, 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 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 seriously to 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. No one, not even the Air Force or Navy, was attempting to preserve one of each type of these historic aircraft 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 in order to restore and preserve World War II-era combat aircraft. By the end of the year, there were nine aircraft in the CAF fleet. Their first airshow was held on March 10, 1963.
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 m) 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 B-25, B-17, B-24. In 1971, they added the world's only airworthy B-29 Superfortress, Fifi.
The group's accomplishments were recognized in 1989 when it became a National Aviation Hall of Fame inductee. The year 1991 marked the beginning of a new era for the CAF with the opening of the new Midland, Texas, headquarters and museum facilities. Since its move to Midland, the American Airpower Heritage Museum and the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame have been established.
Today, the Commemorative Air Force comprises over 11,000 members comprising more than 70 regional groups, called wings or detachments, in 27 states and 4 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 walks of life. Membership is open to all men and women, age 18 or older. Those who are 13 years of age or older, may join as Cadet members. You need not be a veteran nor a pilot to join the CAF. Privately funded and totally self-supporting, the nonprofit, tax-exempt group is dedicated to preserving the military aviation heritage of World War II.
The original name, Confederate Air Force, started as a simple tongue in cheek type of joke, poking fun at their 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 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 WWII "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 2002 it changed its name to Commemorative Air Force after a vote of the membership. Many felt the name Confederate Air Force was confusing, did not accurately reflect the purpose of the organization, and was detrimental to fundraising efforts.This name change was deemed by some fans to be a move of political correctness. The reason for the name change as stated by the organization was "Because the word "Confederate" is offensive to some."
In line with the tongue-in-cheek nature of the CAF, restored airframes of US origin would bear traditional US 'star-and-bar' roundel markings on their fuselage starboard side, and on the port side a Confederate 'flag-and-bar', where the flag of the Confederate States replaces the star in the center of the roundel.
Exceptions to this are the replicated Japanese aircraft of the "Tora! Tora! Tora!" group, and German aircraft.
The practice has since not been continued after the CAF's voluntary name change, though it remains part of their humorous legacy.
The main objectives of the CAF are::
The CAF operates 150+ aircraft based with over 70 wings, in 27 states and 4 other countries. The entire collection of CAF aircraft is known as the CAF Ghost Squadron. Its aircraft range from the small Stinson L-5 and Ryan PT-22 to the giant Boeing B-29 Superfortress, the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress and the Consolidated B-24A Liberator AM927. Many of the CAF aircraft are rare - the CAF operates the only flying examples of the historic B-29 Superfortress and Curtiss SB2C Helldiver. Others, such as the Consolidated B-24/LB-30 Liberator, Bell P-63 Kingcobra fighter, Japanese Mitsubishi A6M Zero and SBD Dauntless, are one of only two or three of that type left flying today. The CAF also operates Axis and exotic aircraft such as the Mig 17 Fresco C.
Of the over 140 history aircraft operated by the CAF; about 100 are in flying condition at any given time. Restoration and maintenance of these 50+ year old planes is always ongoing.
AIRSHO is a once-per-year event at Midland International Airport showcasing the CAF's aircraft. It is more than just an air show to the CAF. 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 an opportunity to bring everyone back together again. Ghost Squadron aircraft usually attend AIRSHO every other year.
Wings and squadrons
The CAF has many wings and squadrons. Most are in the United States, but there are a few outside the country.
US wings and squadrons
International wings & squadrons
Other large collections of flying historic aircraft
Published - July 2009
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