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T-6 Texan converted to resemble a Mitsubishi A6M Zero as flown by the Commemorative Air Force's Tora! Tora! Tora! group

P-51C Mustang in Tuskegee Airmen livery as flown by Minnesota wing

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[1] at Midland International Airport, located in Midland, Texas.


The origin of the Commemorative Air Force dates back to 1957, when Lloyd Nolen and four friends purchased a P-51 Mustang, each sharing in the $1,500 cost of the aircraft.[2] 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 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 m2) 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 Spirit of Flight Award winner.[3] 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 group also established the American Airpower Heritage Museum and the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame.[4]


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 backgrounds. Membership is open to all men and women, age 18 or older. Those who are 12 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 joke, poking fun at the organization's 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.[5] 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."[6]


In line with the original nature of the CAF, restored airframes of US origin would bear traditional US 'star-and-bar' roundel markings on their fuselage and wings, though they would use the Star with Dot on appropriate, pre-war and early-war aircraft.[citation needed] The practice of using a small Confederate flag has since been discontinued after the CAF's voluntary name change, though it remains part of their legacy. Exceptions to this are the replicated Japanese aircraft of the "Tora! Tora! Tora!" group, RAF and British Commonwealth aircraft, Special Aircraft, and German Luftwaffe aircraft.


The main objectives of the CAF are:[7]

  • 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,
  • To construct or obtain museum buildings for the permanent protection, maintenance, and display of these historic aircraft, period artifacts, and documents as a tribute to the thousands of men and women who built, serviced, and flew them and to build and organize the "American Combat Airman Hall of Fame",
  • To perpetuate the spirit in which such combat aircraft were flown in the defense of our nation, in the memory and hearts of all Americans, and
  • 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.


Formation pass during the 2008 CAF AIRSHO

Tora! Tora! Tora! Gang flying a Zero, Val, and Kate, break over wall of fire created by the Tora Bomb Squad

B-24 "Diamond Lil" from the Commemorative Air Force collection. Airframe has been returned to B-24A configuration in 2007.[8]

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.[9] 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 historic 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.

CAF B-17G Sentimental Journey, tours annually from her Falcon Field at Mesa, Arizona base. Pinup painting is of Betty Grable.[10]


AIRSHO is a once-per-year event at Midland International Airport showcasing the CAF's aircraft.[11] 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. The CAF AIRSHO is the largest warbird airshow in the world, with more than 80 warbirds flying per show.

Wings and squadrons

The CAF has many wings and squadrons. Starting in 2013, a limited number of larger units may be designated as an "Airbase." The first is Airbase Arizona, located at Falcon Field in Mesa, AZ and redesignated in Jun 2013. Most CAF units are in the United States, but there are four outside the country.

US wings and squadrons

  • Alaska
    • Anchorage — Alaska Wing
  • Arizona
    • Mesa — Airbase Arizona at Falcon Field.
  • California
    • Camarillo — Southern California Wing
    • Modesto — Central California Valley Squadron
    • Oakland — Golden Gate Wing
    • Riverside — Inland Empire Wing
    • San Diego — Group One Wing
    • Upland — Third Pursuit Squadron
  • Florida
    • Deland — Florida Wing
  • Georgia
    • Atlanta — Dixie Wing
  • Illinois
    • Chicago — Great Lakes Wing
  • Indiana
    • Indianapolis — Indiana Wing
  • Kansas
    • Kansas City — Heart of America Wing
    • Wichita — Jayhawk Wing
  • Minnesota
    • Duluth — Lake Superior Squadron 101
    • South St. Paul — Minnesota Wing
  • Mississippi
    • Madison — Mississippi Wing
  • Missouri
    • St. Louis — Missouri Wing
  • Nebraska
    • Omaha — Great Plains Wing
  • Nevada
    • Las Vegas — Nevada Wing
  • New Mexico
    • Albuquerque — Lobo Wing
    • Hobbs — New Mexico Wing
  • North Carolina
    • Southern Pines — Carolinas Wing
  • Ohio
    • Cleveland — Cleveland Wing
    • Columbus — Ohio Valley Wing
  • Oklahoma
    • Guymon — Cimmaron Strip Wing
    • Oklahoma City — Oklahoma Wing
    • Oklahoma City — Sierra Hotel A-26 Sponsor Group
    • Tulsa — Spirit of Tulsa Squadron
  • Pennsylvania
    • Philadelphia — Delaware Valley Wing
    • Pittsburgh — Keystone Wing
  • Tennessee
    • Memphis — Memphis Squadron
  • Texas
    • Abilene — Big Country Squadron
    • Addison — B-29/B-24 Squadron
    • Amarillo — Dew Line Squadron
    • Brownsville — Rio Grande Valley Wing
    • Burnet — Highland Lakes Squadron
    • Conroe — Big Thicket Wing
    • Corpus Christi — Third Coast Squadron
    • Corsicana — Coyote Squadron
    • Dallas/Fort Worth — Dallas/Fort Worth Wing
    • San Antonio — “Tex” Hill Wing
    • Georgetown — Devil Dog Squadron
    • Graham — Cactus Squadron
    • Houston — Gulf Coast Wing
    • Houston — West Houston Squadron
    • Marshall — Lone Star Wing
    • Midland — AIRSHO Support Detachment
    • Midland — High Sky Wing
    • Midland — West Texas Wing
    • Odessa — Desert Squadron
    • San Marcos — Centex Wing
    • San Marcos — Yellow Rose Squadron
  • Utah
    • Salt Lake City — Utah Wing
  • Virginia
    • Chesapeke — Old Dominion Squadron
    • Manassas — National Capitol Squadron
  • Wisconsin
    • Milwaukee — Wisconsin Wing
  • National Units
    • Culpeper's Angels
    • Explosive Ordnance Detachment
    • Marshalling Detachment
    • Medical Detachment
    • Security Detachment
    • TRARON

International wings & squadrons

  • Australia
    • New South Wales — Australian Wing
  • France
    • Aulnay Sous Bois — French Wing
  • New Zealand
    • Auckland — New Zealand Wing
  • Switzerland
    • Olten — Swiss Wing


  1. Commemorative Air Force website: American Airpower Heritage Museum. Retrieved January 24, 2009.
  2. CAF History. Retrieved April 3, 2011.
  4. See American Combat Airman Hall of Fame webpage (on CAF Airpower Museum website). Retrieved July 25, 2010. See also American Combat Airman Hall of Fame inductees webpage (on American Airpower Heritage Museum website). Retrieved July 28, 2010.
  5. Commemorative Air Force website: CAF News 2001 Press Release. Retrieved August 14, 2007.
  6. Confederate Air Force, RIP by Brian Dunaway.
  7. Commemorative Air Force website: CAF Unit Manual, Section 14 "Constitution and Bylaws (members only). Retrieved July 22, 2007.
  8. Commemorative Air Force website: CAF "Diamond Lil" back to B-24A configuration. Retrieved August 14, 2007.
  9. Commemorative Air Force website: CAF Facts and Information. Retrieved July 22, 2007.
  10. Boeing B-17G "Flying Fortress".
  11. CAF AIRSHO website: Retrieved July 22, 2007.

External links

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