Our History & Mission

Our mission is to educate, inspire, and honor through flight and living history experiences.

It began with a single plane.

Lloyd Nolen and a small group of ex-service pilots from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas pooled their money to purchase a P-51 Mustang in 1957. They formed a loosely defined organization to share the pleasure and expense of maintaining the Mustang.

A short while later, the group added a pair of F8F Bearcats to the P-51 Mustang. At this point, the mission of the CAF became clear: save an example of every aircraft that flew during World War II ~ a mission no one else was undertaking.

What started as a hobby became an urgent objective to preserve history.

CAF Units

The Commemorative Air Force has over 75 units in the United States and other countries.

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CAF Aircraft

The CAF, through it's units, maintains and flies over 180 historical aircraft.

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CAF Membership

The CAF prides itself on it's volunteer members and their mission to protect these rare flying monuments to freedom.

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By 1960, the group began to search seriously for other World War II aircraft but it quickly became apparent that few remained in flying condition. By the end of the war, America had produced nearly 300,000 aircraft. Just 15 years later, almost all the warbirds were gone.

Decommissioned and stripped of armament and instruments, most of these proud warriors were scrapped or abandoned. No one, not even the Air Force or Navy, was attempting to preserve the historic aircraft that changed the world forever.

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.

In 1965, the first museum building consisting of 26,000 square feet 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. The CAF fleet continued to grow and included medium and heavy bombers such as the B-29, B-25, B-17 and B-24.

The organization was originally known as the Confederate Air Force. Following a membership vote in 2001 and made effective on January 1, 2002, the organization is now called the Commemorative Air Force. The name was changed to better reflect the mission of the organization.

Collecting aircraft for nearly a half a century, the CAF now ranks as one of the largest air forces in the world. Today the CAF has approximately 13,000 members and a fleet of more than 175 aircraft representing more than 60 different types—including planes from several foreign countries and other military conflicts since World War II.

The Headquarters of the CAF is located in Dallas. CAF members live in every state and 28 foreign countries. In 26 states and four foreign countries, our members have joined together and formed units to foster camaraderie and, in many cases, actively support one or more of the classic military aircraft operated by the CAF.

The CAF was founded 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.

More than just a collection of airworthy warplanes from the past, the CAF's fleet of historic aircraft, known as the CAF Ghost Squadron, recreate, remind and reinforce the lessons learned from the defining moments in American military aviation history.

Want to be a part of this great mission? Click here to learn about membership and join this organization.

CAF Objectives

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. To establish an organization having the dedication, enthusiasm and esprit de corps necessary to operate, maintain and preserve these aircraft as symbols of our American military aviation heritage.

501(c)3 Status Letter

The Four Corporations of the CAF and the Governing Bodies.

The Commemorative Air Force is made of four corporations: (1) Commemorative Air Force, (2) American Airpower Heritage Museum (3) American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum, Inc., and (4) American Airpower Heritage Foundation, Inc., each corporation has a separate board, but policies are approved by the President/CEO of the Commemorative Air Force. The following describes the four separate corporations and their charge.

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) The CAF is the operating agency. This body conducts all membership and Unit services, manages and produces the CAF’s publications (Dispatch), provides public relations coordination (national and international), operates aircraft through a written agreement with the American Airpower Heritage Flying Museum, maintains a liaison with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and other Warbird groups, performs/monitors all CAF flying events and static displays and manages operating funds and the day-to-day business of the CAF.

THE AMERICAN AIRPOWER HERITAGE MUSEUM, INC. (AAHM) The AAHM is the body that controls the collection of artifacts and oral histories that are currently in storage, awaiting the building of the new CAF National Airbase in Dallas. The artifacts are stored in climate-controlled conditions in accordance with best Museum practices. The CAF Airpower Museum is governed by its Board of Directors. The CEO of the Commemorative Air Force is the CEO of the AAHM. This board oversees the actions of the Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center as part of its charge.

THE AMERICAN AIRPOWER HERITAGE FLYING MUSEUM, INC. (AAHFM) The AAHFM holds the title to all CAF aircraft, acquires aircraft and entrusts aircraft to the CAF through written agreements. The AAHFM is managed by its Board of Directors. CEO of the Commemorative Air Force is the CEO of the AAHFM.

THE AMERICAN AIRPOWER HERITAGE FOUNDATION, INC. (AAHF) The AAHF garners and administers an Endowment Fund from which earnings are distributed in keeping with the organizational objectives. The AAHF is managed by its Board of Directors. The AAHF may receive advice from a Board of Trustees. The CEO of the Commemorative Air Force is the CEO of the AAHF.

The General Staff is the government of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) and consists of eleven (11) officers. These officers are selected as prescribed in the CAF Bylaws. The General Staff shall constitute the duly elected Board of Directors and shall have full power and authority over the affairs of the corporation. General Staff Officers serve term(s) of three (3) years and are elected by the membership at the annual general membership meeting in the manner prescribed in the CAF Bylaws. In accordance with CAF Bylaws: No member of the General Staff shall be elected to more than two (2) consecutive three (3) year terms in office or serve more than eight (8) consecutive years in office resulting from any combination of elected and/or appointed terms. The General Staff establishes Executive Limitations for the CEO, based on the Policy Governance model. The General Staff is required to meet a minimum of five (5) times each year. General Staff Meetings are open to CAF Colonel members. Minutes from the General Staff Meetings are available online along with the contact information of the General Staff Members.

Why is it called the General Staff? General Staff is a military term which refers to a group of officers who are without command and whose duty is to assist high commanders in planning and carrying out orders in peace and war. Each member of the General Staff has an equal vote. This is also why all CAF members are called Colonels, so no member can out rank another member.

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