Commemorative Air Force Blogs

Welcome to the Commemorative Air Force Blogs. A great way to stay informed about what is going on with the CAF.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

Profiles of Tuskegee Airmen: Dr. Fenton Sands

Screen Shot 2017 03 22 at 11.47.59 AMDefying expectations is a hallmark of the Tuskegee Airmen. It may seem unusual that a kid from the urban metropolis of New York City would emerge as an international agricultural expert, but original Tuskegee Airmen Dr. Fenton sands did just that, and much more. He would grow up to leave those crowded city streets for the Ivy League, serve his country, and go on to dedicate his post-war civilian career to people all over the world. Like other inspirational Tuskegee Airmen, Sands has left his mark on history.

Although Sands was born in Harlem in 1918, his family originally emigrated to the U.S. from the Bahamas to find better opportunities for work and education. The sentiment “Get an education!” ran strong in their family. The children knew that, no matter what, this was their path forward. Sands hit that first milestone in 1936, graduating from Stuyvesant High School, one of the best high schools in New York City at the time.

Now called Jackie Robinson Park, Sands was inspired by Colonial Park, 10 blocks of open space in Harlem that sparked his curious nature. Growing up across this street from this gem where city met nature, his love for science took root, eventually leading him to Cornell to study agriculture. He was defying odds – a black man from the big city majoring in agriculture at a rural and predominantly white college.

He studied hard at Cornell, learned to farm, worked for a power company, and was a resident of the now-famous Telluride House. Still in existence today, the Telluride House is a unique community of Cornell scholars – undergraduate, graduate and faculty – passionate about intellectual engagement, democratic self-governance, and community living. Within this setting, Sands was afforded a rich and intense academic experience. He graduated in 1942 with a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture, majoring in horticulture and agronomy, the science of soil management and crop production. He was the first in his family to earn a college degree.

While still at Cornell, Sands applied to the U.S. Army Air Corps’ new flight training program for black men because of his interest in aviation. He also wanted the opportunity to do something worthwhile for his country that was previously restricted from black Americans. Many people in the country, like Sands, were eager to join the war effort, and wanted the chance to do so regardless of the color of their skin, in critical roles where their skills and education could make a marked difference in fighting the enemy.

In June of 1942, Sands passed the examination needed to qualify as a cadet in the Air Corps to the great delight and pride of his entire family. By December he was assigned to pre-flight training at the Army Air Force Advanced Flying Training School in Tuskegee, Alabama and his future in aviation was set in motion.

As a cadet, Sands was a part of the now iconic picture with then New York City mayor Firello LaGuardia with the first class of black aviation navigation cadets who would go on to fly bombers. The group was heralded on this historic visit to New York and many flocked to see them in a parade, amazed at the prospect of black Americans flying aircraft in the war effort.

Sands was commissioned as an officer February of 1944. By June he completed bombardier training and was later assigned to the 477th Bombardier Group, becoming a member of a unique, select group of black navigators-bombardiers, the first of their kind in the military.

The war ended before the 477th was deployed overseas and Sands was honorably discharged in December of 1945 and shortly after married Dorothy Holder. The two moved to Africa in 1946, working as missionaries in Liberia to help re-open and revitalize the church-run Cuttington College. Sands would work on the school’s agricultural program, and during that time their two first children were born.

Sands and his family returned to the states so he could pursue a doctorate, and in 1954 he graduated from Cornell once again, this time with a PhD in agriculture. With their third child born during this time, the growing family once again returned to Africa where Sands served as Cuttington’s Vice President and Director of Agriculture. Later he would go on to take an assignment with his family in Nigeria.

His important work in agriculture expanded to work with USAID and the World Bank, serving in such locations as South Sudan, Sudan, Mexico, Peru, Ecuador, Columbia, the Virgin Islands, Morocco, Tunisia, Madagascar, Greece, South Yemen, North Yemen, Oman, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Thailand and the Phillippines. He retired in 1982.

Dr. and Mrs. Sands continued to explore and travel the world in their retirement, and joined several civic organizations. He was a member of the General “Chappie” James chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc., mentoring young people through his inspirational military service and civilian career experience.

Sands passed away in 1998. His commitment to education and life’s work inspired all three of his children and seven grandchildren attended college. For a more detailed account of his life and to see photos and original documents from him time as a Tuskegee Airmen and working around the world, read “A Tuskegee Airman and Much More” by his son, Fenton Sands Jr.

We salute you, Dr. Sands, for your service and worthy contributions to make our world a better place. RISE ABOVE!

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

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Founding member Don Hinz inducted into CAF Hall of Fame

IMG 3496In 2010, the Commemorative Air Force established the CAF Hall of Fame to honor members who have made monumental contributions towards the success and worldwide impact of the organization. On March 4, 2017, the late CAF Red Tail Squadron founding member Don Hinz, retired Navy commander, was inducted into the CAF Hall of Fame for his outstanding efforts to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen through his volunteer service with the CAF.

Tragically, Don passed away in 2004 from injuries sustained in an engine malfunction in the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, but his vision to bring the lessons of these important American heroes into every classroom in the country continues to fuel the work of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. The addition of the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to the CAF Red Tail Squadron was a direct result of that vision.

At the induction ceremony, CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and founding member Doug Rozendaal presented the award to Don's son, USMC officer and pilot Ben Hinz, who accepted it on behalf of the entire Hinz family.

Hinz noted that his father would not have accepted the award solely for himself. “He would point to the men and women who, 75 years ago, stood on the grounds of the Tuskegee Institute and fought for the opportunity to defend their country in the skies above Europe. That’s where the honor really lies. And if I think about how we honor their story and their tradition, along with my dad, I think the answer is quite simple. We fulfill my dad’s vision to put the story into every classroom in America of courage in the face of adversity as embodied by the Tuskegee Airmen. Thank you to the CAF for continuing to fulfill his vision and honoring his memory tonight.”

Don’s respect and reverence for the experience of the Tuskegee Airmen brought a vintage warbird back to the skies to inspire an entire generation to RISE ABOVE, and not just wow the audience at air shows. He saw restoring the P-51C Mustang as a tool to engage and ignite conversations with people of all ages that would help bring about an appreciation for the sacrifices made by the Tuskegee Airmen to serve their country while fighting for their own equality.

CAF's tribute to Hinz from the 2017 CAF Hall of Fame induction ceremony includes an interview he gave in the early days of the project. He said, “This aircraft is going to represent the contributions and sacrifices of African Americans in World War II. It will travel the country – maybe even the world – telling their story, celebrating their history and educating youth about their ability to follow their dreams, overcome obstacles and find their success.”

Hinz left an indelible mark not only on the CAF Red Tail Squadron, but also on the entire Commemorative Air Force. “Don brought education to the forefront,” said Rozendaal. “He knew this was not about an airplane; it was a tool we needed to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was a great leader and an incredible guy. He made me a better man. Don Hinz made this a better organization.”

The CAF Red Tail Squadron extends hearty congratulations to the Hinz family. Join us as we continue to honor his vision to inspire and educate people everywhere through the remarkable story of the Tuskegee Airmen.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

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Officially taking to the airways TODAY!

We’re excited to report that CAF Red Tail Squadron P-51C Mustang pilot and Squadron Leader Doug Rozendaal has just taken final delivery of the Tuskegee Airmen after over a year of repairs. The aircraft is now officially back in service of the CAF Red Tail Squadron to honor the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen to audiences around the country for the 2017 air show season!

Today Rozendaal is flying the Mustang to the CAF National Airbase at Dallas Executive Airport where the aircraft will rest for a short bit before hitting the air show circuit. The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s RISE ABOVE: Red Tail program has already launched its 2017 cross-country tour and is currently in Phoenix, Ariz. for private visits at local schools, with special guest original Tuskegee Airman Col Charles McGee.

The P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen is slated to make its public debut at the 2017 Yuma Airshow March 17 and 18 where it will wow the audience with an aerobatic performance in the show, and be on static display alongside the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to inspire and inform people of all ages with the important message of the Tuskegee Airmen, our country’s first black military pilots and their support personnel.

The Mustang has been tapped to appear at many events around the country in 2017. To find out if the RISE ABOVE: Red Tail program, featuring the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen and the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit, will be near you, keep tabs on our events calendar. Make plans to come see us in person, introduce yourself and leave inspired to RISE ABOVE any challenge, just like the Tuskegee Airmen.

Once again, welcome back to our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen! You are a treasure!

Photo Courtesy Adam Glowski March 2017 copy

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

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Portraits of Tuskegee Airmen: Jerome and John “Ellis” Edwards

During World War II, many families proudly watched their sons and daughters pledge their service to their country. Some sent – and lost – multiple children to the war effort. For the Edwards family of Steubenville, Ohio, their two sons, Jerome and John “Ellis,” became part of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, piloting aircraft to join the air war over Europe. Although they were not immune to the tragedy of war, they have celebrated the Edwards’ brothers’ achievements for generations.

Both brothers graduated from Steubenville High School and went on to attend West Virginia State College. Jerome enrolled in 1935, and “Ellis” followed two years later at his older brother’s insistence. “Ellis” had aspirations of becoming a dentist, but instead both enrolled in the school’s aviation program when WVSC became one of the first historically black colleges to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program.

A nationwide program to cultivate pilots for the war effort, the CPT was an especially exciting development because of the opportunities it opened up for aspiring black pilots. It would produce the country’s first black military pilots and their support personnel, known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After completing CPT, cadets would go on to advanced flight training through the U.S. Army Air Corps. Black flight cadets were segregated at the Tuskegee Institute, where they learned to fly the fighter aircraft that would be play a crucial role in the United States’ air power of World War II.

Both brothers became skilled pilots, earning their private pilots licenses in the CPT. When Jerome graduated in 1940, he went off to Tuskegee where he successfully completed all phases of advanced training. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in September of 1942 and assigned to the 99th Fighter Squadron, part of the 332nd Fighter Group. He flew both the P-40 and P-51 aircraft, assigned to the Army Air Force Base at Oscoda, Michigan, for advanced aerial combat training.

Tragically, Jerome was killed May 7, 1943 when his P-40 suffered an engine malfunction at takeoff resulting in a fatal crash. It was the first fatality suffered by the 332nd Fighter Group, and a terrible loss for the Edwards family.

Although he qualified for a family hardship honorable discharge after the loss of his brother, “Ellis” made the decision to remain in the U.S. Army Air Corps and honor his brother by dedicating his military service to his memory. “Ellis” graduated from Tuskegee and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant April 8, 1944.

By early 1945, “Ellis” began his service overseas at Ramitelli Air Force Base in Italy conducting combat and bomber escort missions as part of the 12th and 15th Air Forces. On April 1 of that year while serving as the squadron section leader on a bombing and strafing mission over Nazi held territory, “Ellis” shot down two German ME-109 aircraft. Tuskegee Airmen took 12 enemy aircraft down that day.

For the two he brought down singlehandedly, “Ellis” received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

During the remainder of his war service, he also received Air Medals with Oak Leaf Clusters, and as part of the 332nd Fighter Group, earned a Presidential Unit citation for the combat skills of its pilots. After World War II, he flew multiple combat missions during the Korean War in the F86 Sabre Jet. Upon leaving the military, he was an announcer for a radio station in Washington, D.C. and eventually retired in Los Angeles.

John “Ellis” Edwards passed away on June 3, 1979.

For service to our country, their extraordinary achievements as Tuskegee Airmen and for being proud sons of Ohio, the names of Jerome and John “Ellis” Edwards are inscribed on the Western Pennsylvania Tuskegee Airmen Memorial, erected in 2013 in Sewickley, Pennsylvania to honor the almost 100 pioneering Tuskegee Airmen from the western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio area.

May their service, sacrifice and struggle for equality inspire us all to triumph over adversity and achieve remarkable heights.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

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Hear the Tuskegee Airmen, “In Their Own Words”

200x200 In Their WordsWe are excited to announce that we will be offering the original film “In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen” by Bryton Entertainment in our web store. This touching documentary debuted on television stations across the United States early in 2017 and is now available on DVD for you to add to your collection or share with someone who could be inspired to RISE ABOVE with the powerful message of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Get your copy today and support the work of the CAF Red Tail Squadron with your purchase. We’re pleased to offer free shipping on this special order as well!

This fully re-mastered and expanded edition contains over 35 minutes of bonus interviews and a special panel discussion at the National Air Force Museum with original Tuskegee Airmen Lt Col George Hardy, former NASA administrator Col Fred Gregory, the film’s producer Bryan Williams and director Denton Adkinson.

Get your copy and help the CAF Red Tail Squadron keep the history and legacy of our country’s first black military pilots alive for generations to come! Watch a sneak peak on our YouTube channel and share with others to inspire them to RISE ABOVE their own obstacles and achieve success.

The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven organization dedicated to educating audiences across the country about the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, America’s first black military pilots and their support personnel. Learn more at

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