Inspiration Comes From Those Who Have Learned to ‘Rise Above’

12:28 PM


The CAF’s RISE ABOVE 53’ Traveling Exhibit – now on display at KidVenture during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh – serves two important missions. Not only does it keep the legend of the Tuskegee Airmen alive, it also has been developed to inspire our next generations of aviators by teaching just what it takes to push beyond any challenge and attain greatness.

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
    
The legendary story of the Tuskegee Airmen has been told many times. In brief, these African-American military pilots fought in World War II, flying bomber escort and fighter missions in Italy and North Africa starting in June, 1944. In the segregated 1940s, all black military pilots trained at Moton Field, the Tuskegee Army Air Field, and were educated at Tuskegee University, located near Tuskegee, Alabama.
    
While they flew a number of makes/models, they became commonly associated with the North American P-51 Mustang. Prior to July, 1944 though, pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their Republic P-47 Thunderbolts red, and the nickname "Red Tails" was coined. Today, the CAF Red Tail Squadron (RTS) is a Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, and their RISE ABOVE: Red Tail outreach program continues to honor these veteran aviators with their RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit. More on the “Road Show” later, but first, ponder this:

Everyone knows that the southern states in the “Jim Crow” era of the 1940s meant African-Americans had a rough go of just about everything. The term “racial discrimination” does not even begin to describe the treatment these American citizens suffered every day of their lives. So when asked to become the first squadron of African-American military pilots, the Tuskegee Airmen had to work harder, be better, do more, and overcome the kind of bias most of us cannot even imagine. But they succeeded, and today, the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s “Six Guiding Principles” gives us all a look inside the world of the Tuskegee Airmen as we learn what it takes to push ourselves past extreme challenges and achieve great things.
    
Those Six Guiding Principles are:
    • Aim High
    • Believe In Yourself
    • Use Your Brain
    • Be Ready To Go
    • Never Quit
    • Expect to Win

    
The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s website has complete descriptions of these principles, and it is very good reading.
    
The RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit is a mobile movie theater that tours the country and makes several stops a year presenting the history of the Tuskegee Airmen and inspiring new generations with their story of courage and determination. The exhibit features a 160-degree panoramic movie screen inside a climate-controlled 53’ semi-trailer with expandable sides that can accommodate 30 visitors. A custom painted Peterbilt semi-truck operated by the drive team of Jeanette and Terry Hollis moves the exhibit to the next air show, and the entire rig is beautiful. At those shows, the original film “Rise Above” created by Emmy Award-wining filmmaker Adam White shows dramatic footage of the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustangs, and presents the history of the Airmen with plenty of aerial footage.
    
This traveling exhibit takes a tremendous amount of labor to move around the country, set up at each show, and welcome visitors in to watch the film and learn about this important part of World War II history. This massive effort is assisted by some very dedicated volunteers. One of those volunteers is Ken Mist (@Eyeno on Twitter) and he shared with Airplanista some of the reasons he has dedicated much of his time and money to this cause. He also elaborated on why he travels thousands of miles each air show season from his home in Woodstock, Ontario, Canada to be an important part of the road show team.

RTS Road Show Lead Ambassador Ken Mist (@Eyeno)

“My RTS story started back around 2011 with my friend and former Squadron Leader Bill Sheppard,” Mist said. “As the only Canadian based pilot, I got to know Bill and saw him and the Red Tail P-51 Mustang at shows. In 2013, Bill invited me to come with him down to the Dayton Vectren Air Show – as a passenger in the Mustang. Of course I said yes. During the show, there was an incident that resulted in the death of wingwalker and friend Jane Wicker and her pilot, a devastating crash which I witnessed first-hand. The incident shook me very badly and it was the RTS who collectively rushed to comfort me and I knew immediately that I would become a member of this group.”
    
When Mist retired in 2015, he began volunteering with the RTS and is now the Squadron’s “Lead Ambassador” which means he’s the primary volunteer who can assist the setup and teardown of the traveling exhibit. At air shows where the Red Tail P-51 Mustang is present, Mist helps the PIC with preparing the aircraft (cleaning, fueling, marshaling, security). His most enjoyable role with RTS however is to act as escort for the Tuskegee Airmen and their family members at Oshkosh for AirVenture. “The Airmen are in such high demand that it is a logistical exercise to make sure they get from venue to venue around the sprawling grounds while being cognizant that we do not impose too much on their ‘never say no’ attitude. Their resiliency is amazing and find myself at the end of the day looking more tired than they do,” Mist said.
    
It is the importance of this mission that keeps Mist involved. “The RTS program’s main goal is to bring the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen to the people of North America, especially the youth,” he explains. “The message encapsulated in the writing on the dog tags we give to each child who watches the movie is just as important to today’s generation as it was back in the 1940’s when a whole group of Americans were told that they were not intelligent enough or even genetically capable of flying in defense of their country. Telling the story, displaying the P-51 Mustang at air shows and providing opportunities to meet living legends shows today’s youth that anything is possible.”
    
As the RTS Road Show was “on mission” at KidVenture during EAA AirVenture Oshkosh 2019, ready to talk to interested youth, adults and aviation history buffs was Lt. Col. George Hardy, 94, one of the few remaining original Tuskegee Airmen. After graduating from training at Tuskegee in September, 1944, Hardy went overseas in 1945 with the 99th Fighter Squadron and flew the P-51C and D on 21 combat missions before World War II ended. He was 19-years-old at the time.
    
Hardy said it is a great feeling when he sees the Rise Above Traveling Road Show exhibit. “Especially when we get to talk to kids after they watch the movie. I tell them about the six principles of the Airmen, starting with aiming high,” he said. Hardy still lives by those same six principles, and says he continues to always try to “improve himself.”
    
To honor the Tuskegee Airmen and keep their legend alive has become more urgent in recent years, says Mist. “We are losing the Airmen very quickly now – less than a dozen of the documented original airmen are still alive. They represent the best in all of us and it is incumbent that we tell their story to those who will lead the world forward. The story may be American and I’m often asked why a white Canadian feels so compassionate about the RTS and the RISE ABOVE RED TAIL message – I am a citizen of Earth and we are all better for having the Tuskegee Airmen.”
    
Well said, Ken, well said.

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