It all began in 1957 with the purchase of a P-51 Mustang known as Red Nose. Lloyd Nolen, a former World War II Army Air Corps flight instructor, and four of his friends pitched in to buy the painted war bird. Legend has it that when the group arrived one Sunday morning at the airfield in the little Rio Grande Valley town of Mercedes, they discovered the words "Confederate Air Force" had been painted on the fuselage of the P-51 Mustang. It was a joke; but the name stuck. It wasnt until September 6, 1961, that the groupshocked at the depleted number of aircraft that played such a major role in winning World War IIchartered the Confederate Air Force as a nonprofit.
The Confederate Air Force (CAF) has grown to more than nine thousand members in 27 states and three countries. More than seventy chartered units have been established in cities across the country to help preserve, restore, and fly the World War II aircraft. Today, however, many members believe the name does not accurately reflect the primary historical and educational objectives of the organization. So last October members voted to change the name. More than one thousand suggestions for the new name have been received from CAF members and the general public, but a committee will weed through them all, ranking the recommendations according to prescribed criteria: the name must capture the essence of the CAFs mission, it must be universally appealing, and it must be long lasting. Once four names are selected, they will be submitted to another committee for approval, and finally, CAF members will vote on the names in October. The winner will become effective January 1, 2002.
The CAF preserves and maintains in flying condition the worlds largest collection of combat aircraft flown by the United States during World War II. Its Ghost Squadron is a fleet of more than 140 airplanes, of which three fourths are airworthy at any given time (the others are grounded in Midland for maintenance rotations). This means they can go where the people are, appearing before millions in nearly every community in the United States. In addition to the air shows that the CAF holds throughout the year across the country (including the one in Midland every October), the CAF also is home to the American Airpower Heritage Museum, which was established as a separate nonprofit organization in 1989 to emphasize education, exhibits, and a library. This interpretive museum currently displays an archival collection of more than 50,000 World War II artifacts. Not bad for an organization that started out with one plane and a joke for a name.
For a list of upcoming events, check out the official Confederate Air Force Web site at confederateairforce.org.