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Peachstate Flying Museum Keeps ‘em Flying

Dixie Wing Celebrates Aviation History and Greatest Generation

Starting with one aircraft less than twenty years ago, the Dixie Wing, the Georgia chapter of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) maintains one of the most active fleet of World War II aircraft in the Southeast United States.

Founded by Lloyd Nolen, a Texas businessman and former WWII military flight instructor, the CAF was inspired by the realization that there was little interest in preserving WWII aircraft. Nolen and a group of partners purchased a North American P-51 Mustang for $2,500. The aircraft became the nucleus of the Confederate Air Force (CAF) and four years later the CAF was incorporated as a non-profit educational organization in Texas.

Today, the CAF has a collection of 140 aircraft, and is comprised of over 8,000 members, with 80 chapters in 29 states and four other countries. 2007 marked the 50th year of the Commemorative Air Force, a tremendous achievement for a privately funded aviation organization that relies on volunteers to restore, maintain and fly historic aircraft.

Thanks to Nolen’s vision and the CAF, more people see WWII aircraft fly at air shows than visit aviation museums in the United States. In 2002, the name of the CAF was changed from the Confederate Air Force to the Commemorative Air Force to more accurately reflect the historic preservation and patriotic mission of the organization, “Preserving America’s Legacy of Freedom.”

The CAF came to Georgia in 1987 when a group of Atlanta-based airline mechanics and pilots banded together to charter the CAF Dixie Wing. Since that time, the wing has restored or acquired six aircraft, including a PT-26 Cornell, C-45 Expeditor and rare SBD Dauntless dive bomber. The Dauntless is one of only three flying in the world today and has been featured in feature films and television miniseries, including “Midway”, “Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance”.

The CAF’s first aircraft, the P-51 Mustang known affectionately as “Old Red Nose”, was assigned to the CAF Dixie Wing in 2004. In 2007, two Korean War-era aircraft were restored; an LT-6 Mosquito and an L-16 Grasshopper. Visitors can also find a Bell P-63 King Cobra under restoration in CAF Dixie Wing Historical Airpower Facility.

During WWII, flight students started learning their trade in a primary trainer aircraft, such as a PT-26 Cornell; progressing to a basic trainer; then to an advanced trainer, such as an SNJ/T-6 and, finally, they were assigned to a fighter plane like “Old Red Nose” or a bomber. The aircraft in the CAF Dixie Wing inventory pay tribute to “The Greatest Generation”, the men and women who helped win WWII, and all of America’s veterans.

In 1997, the CAF Dixie Wing hosted the first edition of The Great Georgia Airshow (GGAS). Approaching its thirteenth year, the air show has grown to become a partnership with the Kiwanis of Peachtree City, benefiting local non-profit organizations, including school groups and scouting. Kiwanis is a global service organization of volunteers dedicated to changing the world, one child and one community at a time.

  

The CAF Dixie Wing is also committed to helping teach WWII history. “Education Through Living History” (ETLH) is a World War II history program provided to schools and youth groups free of charge. ETLH also includes a Veterans Oral History program and in 2002 “WWII Heritage Days” was created to bring living history to the community, combining vintage military vehicles and aircraft, reenactors and educational exhibits. This year’s program will be held April 24-25, 2010. Over 10,000 school age children have attended ETLH since 2002.

The CAF Dixie Wing Historical Airpower Facility, built in 2002, is part hangar and part workshop, but it is also a museum that includes German, Japanese and U.S. uniforms, armament and equipment, a large collection of model airplanes and home front artifacts. Many of the items displayed were donated by members, veterans or their family members so that they could participate in “Preserving America’s Legacy of Freedom”.

How does an all-volunteer organization fund a flying museum? Hard work, creativity and perseverance. Air show appearances and souvenir sales are a start. Members also donate time, talent and treasure to keep the aircraft in the air or support fund raisers such as “Keep ‘em Flying”, a WWII hangar dance to be held April 24, 2010. You can help preserve history by participating in the Rides Program, a program where the public can receive a ride in a CAF Dixie Wing aircraft in return for a donation.

There will come a day when the historic aircraft of World War II will be exhibits in museums and fl own only by a privileged few, but thanks to the CAF Dixie Wing, the roar of history can be heard in Peachtree City and throughout the state. For more information about the CAF Dixie Wing, please visit www. dixiewing.org or call 678-364-1110.

The Commemorative Air Force is a non-profit organization dedicated to flying and restoring World War II aircraft. Based in Midland, Texas, the organization has over 9,500 members and operates a fleet of over 150 World War II aircraft.

www.commemorativeairforce.org

Aviators Hot Line WARBIRDS September/October 2011

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