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Commemorative Air Force to bring history lessons, economic growth

Michael McGee | 5/9/2014, 8:55 p.m.
“I feel like an 8-year-old, Christmas morning after I opened up those presents, and get to play with them,” Mayor ...
Councilman Tennell Atkins stands with Tuskegee Airmen Calvin Spann, left, and Homer Hogues, right, in front of an original ‘Red Tail’ P-51C Mustang. Mike McGee

The Dallas Examiner

“I feel like an 8-year-old, Christmas morning after I opened up those presents, and get to play with them,” Mayor Mike Rawlings expressed while surrounded by 12 WWII vintage aircraft on a runway at Dallas Executive Airport on April 29. The mayor, Sen. Royce West, Councilman Tennell Atkins and members of the Commemorative Air Force gathered at the airport to announce that the CAF would be relocating their corporate headquarters from Midland to the Metroplex. The mayor lauded the arrival of the CAF to Dallas and emphasized the opportunity it brought for the twin fronts of education and economic development.

Originally called the Confederate Air Force, the organization changed their name in Jan. 2002 to reflect their new mission to acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft that were flown by all military services of the United States. The group began in 1957 when ex-military pilots in the Rio Grande Valley bought a P-51 Mustang, according to the CAF mission and history statement. The goal of the group was to “save an example of every aircraft that flew during World War II.” Currently, the 501c3 organization has members in every state, 28 countries and owns a fleet of almost 160 vintage planes.

The audience at DEA included students from Kennedy Curry Middle School and the Seagoville Middle School R.O.T.C. During his speech Rawlings pointed out a 13-year-old girl and then gestured to a 91-year-old flyer.

“That’s it right there,” he declared. “If we believe in education then we believe in passing on the wisdom of the greatest generation to these folks.” Rawlings subsequently changed the topic, but not the enthusiasm, of his speech.

“I said all the warm, fuzzy stuff, but this was a business deal. We had to make it attractive for the Commemorative Air Force to come, and it had to be right for us as well.” Just 10 minutes from the Omni convention hotel, Rawlings spoke of building more hotels on the abundant South Dallas land as well as supportive infrastructure. “It is going to be a hub of our growth towards Executive Airport, to Southwest Center Mall, down 67 and 20. So this is going to help us continue to GrowSouth.”

In the name of attracting tourists and strengthening the development of the Red Bird area “tens of millions of dollars” were going to be put into the airport’s terminal, Rawlings added.

“In the coming months and years we’re going to be on that capital campaign to make sure that we continue to build this area,” he affirmed. Once he concluded his speech, Rawlings verified that expansion of the airport was on the City Council docket; improvements that need discussion include the extending of runways and the rebuilding of the terminal and some hangars.

Stephan Brown, president of the CAF, agreed that education was the wider mission of the organization. To illustrate the group’s dedication to preserving the past, Brown introduced several WWII veterans who were in the audience. One man was part of the bombing of Nagoya, Japan. Another vet flew in the D-Day invasion. A couple of Tuskegee Airmen were present. Brown attested that history mingled among the airport visitors.