April/May CAF Red Tail Update

by Chuck Cravens

This is a front view of fuselage in the fixture inside the restoration shop working area. This is a front view of fuselage in the fixture inside the restoration shop working area.

CAF Red Tail Squadron’s Tuskegee Airmen P-51C Update

Robert Heinlein once said “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.” This wisdom appears as part of the Commemorative Air Forces’ mission statement. Heinlein’s observation very neatly sums up the reason for the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s “Rise Above” traveling exhibit and the P-51C “Tuskegee Airmen’s” appearances at air shows throughout the country.

Education is the goal, education about the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, not only their stellar combat record, but even more importantly the triumph over adversity that made that record possible. It is this triumph that can inspire others, especially young people, to rise above the obstacles that stand in the way of their goals and dreams.

That is why it is so very important that the Tuskegee Airmen P-51C continues to tour. An obstacle fell across its path this February when some damage occurred to the Mustang. The CAF Red Tail Squadron decided to invest the time and resources to bring “Tuskegee Airmen” back to airworthiness. They entrusted AirCorps Aviation with the job and the repairs have progressed nicely so far.

By late April the inspections had been completed and repairs commenced.


Cooling Air Intake and Exit Area

Next work began on the very complicated cooling air intake and exit area so characteristic of a Mustang.


If you look very carefully in the image above you will notice three rivet colors. Like most large operations, North American sourced rivets and other parts from various subcontractors. The rivets came in three variations of anodized color. There were clear anodized natural aluminum rivets, iridite anodized rivets with a yellow cast to them and occasionally a blue anodized rivet. While unproven, it is speculated that the blue ones may have been to a navy spec and were used because they were available and in the rivet bins.1

New rivets were specially produced to the 1944 specifications by National Rivet and Manufacturing of Waupun, Wisconsin and used throughout the restoration of Sierra Sue II and now in the repair of the Red Tail.

1.  Chuck Cravens, Combat Vet P51, the History of Sierra Sue II, (Edina, MN, Beaver’s Pond Press, 2015)


The doghouse has to be put on and off many times before finally permanently installing it. It is a complicated job to fit all the pieces and make the whole assembly function properly.

It is always amazing how many times assemblies go on and off before permanent installation. After all the fitting work, the doghouse will come off one more time when the scoop is installed.

For the upcoming month, we will look forward to receiving the completed engine mounts from Odegaard Wings so we can install them.

Several upper cowling formers and the right side upper and side of cowling skins are usable as is. For the rest, some parts will be fabricated and some are available for purchase and will be ordered. (If another qualified restoration shop has done the tooling and made a particular part, it is much more economical to buy that part than to start from scratch and tool up and make it.)

By the end of the month we hope to be ready to install the Merlin when it comes back from Roush Aviation.

About the author

Leave a Reply