The Confederate Air Force History Preservation Project

Jason W. Smith

In 1951, a crop duster pilot in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas named Lloyd Nolen decided to purchase a Curtiss P-40 "Warhawk," one of the most famous aircraft of World War II, that, like many of its brethren, could be found on the government auction blocks in those days for a few hundred dollars. The P-40 was fun to fly and Nolen and his friends put many hours on the tough Curtiss fighter. But as a pre-war design its performance was nothing compared to the fighters that entered service in the latter part of World War II. Nolen decided he wanted something with more power and speed. When the government began to auction off its surplus supply of North American P-51 "Mustang" fighters, he found himself on the verge of a long-held dream.

Designed, built, and flown all within the confines of World War II, the Mustang was one of the finest piston fighters ever built. In 1952, with sights set firmly on acquiring a P-51, Nolen sold the venerable P-40 and began his quest for a Mustang. Escalation of the conflict in Korea made surplus Mustangs a valuable commodity to the government once more, however, and it would be many years before Nolen's dream became reality.

It was not until 1957 that Nolen and his group of pilot friends was able to get its hands on a Mustang. This was certainly a lot of fun, but dogfights and races are hard to run with only one airplane, so the search began for another type--a naval fighter--to fly along with the Mustang. To the chagrin of the duster pilots, a grim realization soon appeared. Of the thousands of fighters, bombers, and transports that saved the world from tyranny only a decade before not a single one was earmarked for preservation. To the government and the public in general these airplanes were worth nothing more than scrap metal, ordered by the elected officials in Washington to be melted into ingots for fifty cents a ton.

In protest of Washington's order--a "Yankee" order--to destroy these historically significant airplanes, one of the duster pilots painted the words "Confederate Air Force" on the side of the Mustang and proudly proclaimed himself and each of his comrades a "Colonel." The name was not a racist ploy as the politically correct now insist upon, but instead, a rather clever inside joke: "Destroy" is to "Preserve" as "Yankee" is to "Confederate." Thus the world's first and most important warbird preservation group, "The Confederate Air Force," was born.

In the decades that followed the CAF grew to include the majority of the types of airplanes--fighters, bombers, transports, and trainers--flown by the Allies during the Second World War. Aircraft representing the Axis powers were also represented, and the CAF was literally one of the ten largest air forces in the world.

Now, forty-four years later, under pressure from those unable to appreciate the significance of the CAF's name, a new moniker for the group is on its way, and a rush to eliminate the heritage of the CAF is on. In much the same way as those who did not see fit to preserve World War II history, the CAF's own history is being misrepresented and forgotten, pushed aside in haste by those who do not care to understand the traditions of this fine collection of proud citizens.

That is why I am seeking help from those who love this organization to help in preserving its memory. From photos to tapes of air shows, it is my desire to establish a permanent "digital archive" of CAF history so that no one will ever forget the amazing half-century of dedicated sacrifice and preservation its members undertook.

Project One involves collection and digital re-mastering of any and all CAF audio and video media. Primary on this list is restoration of "Tennessee" Ernie Ford's "Ballad of the Ghost Squadron" theme. The original tapes are deteriorating and in desperate need of restoration/re-mastering/preservation. Audio of Mr. Ford's announcement duties at the Harlingen CAF Airsho is second on the list of priorities, followed by photos of the CAF's early years from 1957 through 1977.

This is a tremendous undertaking. If you would like to help, please contact me. This is an important mission and hope you will support it. No money is asked, nor will be taken. This is a labor of love, not profit.

Jason W. Smith - Contact and Biographical Information

E-Mail: Jason W. Smith

HARLINGEN, TEXAS - The Good Old Days


  CAF PLANES - Classic Schemes, Happy Memories  

My thanks to Steve Williams for these fine photos of CAF birds in classic paint schemes.