Today’s CAF Red Tail Squadron began in the heart – and hangar – of a kind and generous man. A man who funneled his passion for aviation and desire to make a difference into a project that has now touched countless lives around the country.

Red Tail Project founder Don Hinz

Red Tail Project founder Don Hinz

Retired United States Navy Commander and businessman Don Hinz created the Red Tail Project based on a dream to restore an authentic P-51C Mustang – not just to wow audiences at air shows, but as a vehicle to spark conversations and educate young and old alike about the often-overlooked history of the Tuskegee Airmen, that had flown this same model as their signature aircraft in WWII.

And now we welcome our Mustang – appropriately named the Tuskegee Airmen – back home to where the idea grew from concept to reality in the Hinz Family Hangar. When not out at air shows and outreach events, the aircraft will now make its home in this hangar, as generously donated by the Hinz family.

Don had spent a career in the cockpit and had gone on to volunteer with the CAF, and it was here that he envisioned a new and exciting way to reach out and inspire audiences through the incredible history of the Tuskegee Airmen, driven in part by his first-hand witness to the injustice of racism and mistreatment of African Americans while serving their country.

“As he learned more and more about the original Tuskegee Airmen, it was clear he wanted to ensure the story of these incredible men was not forgotten, and to be an inspiration to youth across the nation,” said Ben Hinz, one of Don’s four sons, himself a major in the United States Marine Corps Reserves and F-18 pilot.

Don knew that the CAF had plans to restore a P-51 as a WWII flying artifact, but he was especially intrigued that this particular model – a P-51C Razorback Z – was the Tuskegee Airmen’s signature aircraft used in their many successful missions in Europe during the war. He had a vision that restoring this aircraft as a “Red Tail” would be a wonderful way to spread the story and message of these amazing war heroes and an important part of our nation’s past that was often left out of history lessons.

At a great loss to the Red Tail Project and the entire aviation community, Don lost his life in an unfortunate accident caused by an engine malfunction of the Tuskegee Airmen at an air show in 2004. The plane, already once fully restored from almost bare bones, was once again precisely and lovingly restored to take to the skies, and continue Don’s dream to educate and inspire by telling a story larger than the aircraft itself.

Ben Hinz at the first flight of the "Tuskegee Airmen" after undergoing its second restoration.

Ben Hinz at the first flight of the “Tuskegee Airmen” after undergoing its second restoration

The homecoming of the plane has of course been bittersweet, to a space filled with memories and the still-present passion of the man who gave his life to promote the legacy of the 996 pilots and over 14,000 support personnel of the Tuskegee program. These men never gave up on their determination to bravely serve our country, regardless of the constant obstacles that had to be overcome, and as so the project lives on and perceivers for the greater good.  “I think for us, storing Tuskegee Airmen in the family hangar is our way of supporting what is now the Red Tail Squadron,” said Ben. “We are maintaining a connection with the memories of the hangar and ultimately of my dad.”

Don Hinz, honorary Tuskegee Airman, created a museum without walls in order to honor the heroism of these fine airmen. We welcome what is now our signature aircraft, Tuskegee Airmen, home to its origins in the Hinz Family Hangar for a place of rest and maintenance.

“We lost a great leader,” said Stan Ross, CAF Red Tail Squadron long-time dedicated volunteer. “He was the most charismatic and yet humble and self-sacrificing person I’ve ever had the privilege of working with.”

The last flight of Don Hinz in the "Tuskegee Airmen"

The last flight of Don Hinz in the “Tuskegee Airmen”

Learn more about Don and the extraordinary multi-restoration process in the original film Red Tail Reborn by Hemlock FilmsFor an account of Don’s legacy geared towards students, read Don Hinz and the Red Tail Project written by Stan Ross and Cindy Bergquist in print and pdf.

Special thanks to Tim Barzen of the CAF Red Tail Squadron and USMC Major Ben Hinz for their contributions to this piece. 


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