Oshkosh, Wisconsin (July 25, 2012) - Aviation is faced with many challenges, and the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) has become a leader in the effort to effect change in the industry. Over the past few years, the CAF has worked to diversify its membership by recruiting a broader range of members. Through organizational focus and marketing efforts, the CAF and warbird aviation have begun to see a change in the ranks of enthusiasts.
"Since 2008, the CAF has been actively seeking to diversify its membership, not only to benefit the future of the organization, but also the future of General Aviation and the warbird industry," said Stephan C. Brown, President/CEO of the CAF. "Historically, the CAF and perhaps even General Aviation as a whole, has been viewed as a 'Good 'Ole Boys' Flying Club.' We hope to change that by generating interest in young professionals from a variety of backgrounds."
Currently, two CAF pilots, David Oliver and Steve Swift, are under the age of 30 and are operating FIFI, Queen of the CAF Fleet and the world's only flying B-29 Superfortress. Oliver is the Flight Operations Officer for the B-29 / B-24 Squadron and is an Instructor Pilot in the B-29 and Copilot in the B-24 Liberator. He now has over 100 hours in the B-29 and holds an unrestricted type rating. Swift is Copilot and Flight Engineer for the B-29 / B-24 Squadron.
The organization is also seeing a growth in women members. Debbie King and Tracy Toth, both copilots on the B-24, join Beth Ann Jenkins, B-25 Instructor Pilot, Julie E. Thomas, B-25 Copilot and Sandy Travnicek who is transitioning into the SNJ. These women are active CAF pilots, and the membership continues expanding to include women who pilot their own aircraft, like air show star Julie Clark, and women who support warbird aviation from the ground, like CAF Minnesota Wing Leader Amy Lauria.
A growing number of members from diverse ethnic backgrounds are joining as well. Brad Lang, leader of the Red Tail Squadron, is the son of a Tuskegee Airmen and a pilot of the CAF Red Tail P-51. Kevin Hong is a crew member with the B-17 Texas Raiders and A-26 Invader Squadron. He also helps with the marketing of the two airplanes and is a photographer at CAF AIRSHO and Wings Over Houston.
"These people are some of the new faces of the CAF going forward," said Brown. "It is proof positive of our intent to be inclusive as we reach out to new members."
The organization is also working to create change by bringing more warbirds and exhibitions to different communities and non-traditional audiences across the country. One example is the number of CAF aircraft flying.
"The CAF is close to having 90% of the fleet in flying status and will have flown approximately 5,000 hours of flight time by the end of 2012, the most in the 55 year history of the CAF." said Mark Novak, Director of Operations and Chief Pilot.
But the CAF has become more than a group of flying warbirds, it now encompasses national efforts to educate and reach new audiences outside the traditional airshow format.
Debuting at EAA AirVenture in 2011, the CAF Red Tail Squadron's Rise Above Traveling Exhibit will be on display throughout the week of the 2012 AirVenture. Since February 2012, the exhibit has visited 22 cities and welcomed almost 8,350 school children. The exhibit features a movie theater with a 160-degree panoramic screen. The movie highlights the Tuskegee Airmen and how they overcame so many obstacles to be allowed to train and fight as the first black U.S. Army Air Corps pilots. The courage and determination they all exhibited in the 1940s as they rose above adversity to meet their goals still has the power to inspire Americans today. The Tuskegee Airmen's legacy of triumph over adversity to "Rise Above" their obstacles is a message worth passing on to future generations.
In 2010, the CAF introduced the CAF's Red, White & Loud Tour starring Aaron Tippin and the CAF Bombers at a press conference held at AirVenture. In 2011, Tippin took the stage at EAA's Theater in the Woods for a rousing patriotic concert. Still an active tour in 2012, audiences have the once-in-a-lifetime chance to see Aaron perform such songs as Where the Stars and Stripes and the Eagle Fly in front of the world's only flying B-29 or other CAF aircraft. On Friday, Sept. 28, Aaron Tippin and the B-25 Devil Dog will be on-site for the 2012 Wings Over North Georgia Air Show in Rome, Georgia. Aaron will kick off the show Friday evening with a stirring performance! For more information visit www.wingsovernorthgeorgia.com
In 1957, a small group of ex-service pilots pooled their money to purchase a P-51 Mustang, beginning what is now called the Commemorative Air Force (CAF). With the addition of a pair of F8F Bearcats, the CAF became the founders of the warbird movement, an effort to preserve and honor our military history with the rallying cry to "Keep 'Em Flying!" Now, 55 years later, the CAF is the premier warbird organization, operating 156 vintage aircraft in Honor of American Military Aviation. A non-profit educational association, the CAF has more than 9,000 members and its fleet of historic aircraft is distributed to 74 units located in 27 states for care and operation.