B25 Mitchell — Chino Airshow 2014. Photo: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED.

The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and showcasing historical aircraft. With its headquarters in Dallas, Texas, the CAF has become one of the largest air forces in the world.

The CAF was originally known as the Confederate Air Force. It was founded by Lloyd Nolen and a group of ex-service pilots from the Rio Grande Valley in Texas in 1957. They pooled their money to purchase a P-51 Mustang, marking the beginning of their mission to save an example of every aircraft that flew during World War II.

The P-51D “Red Nose” was the first airplane of the CAF. Photo: André Du-pont (Mexico Air Spotters) / GFDL.

By 1960, the group began to search seriously for other World War II aircraft, but it quickly became apparent that few remained in flying condition. The CAF was chartered as a non-profit Texas corporation on September 6, 1961, to restore and preserve World War II-era combat aircraft. By the end of the year, there were nine aircraft in the CAF fleet.

By 2001, the organization had been collecting aircraft for nearly half a century and had grown to rank as one of the largest air forces in the world1. It was clear that the organization’s mission had become about more than just preserving aircraft. It was about educating, inspiring, and honoring through flight and living history experiences.

To better reflect this broader mission, the organization decided to change its name. Following a membership vote in 2001, the organization became known as the Commemorative Air Force, effective from January 1, 2002. This name change was intended to better communicate the organization’s commitment to honoring American military aviation through flight, exhibition, and remembrance.

The CAF C-47 “That’s All, Brother” was the plane that led the main airborne invasion of Normandy during D-Day. Photo: Godsfriendchuck / CC BY-SA 4.0 DEED.


The CAF’s mission is to educate, inspire, and honor through flight and living history experiences. The organization now has over 75 units in the United States and other countries. Through these units, the CAF maintains and flies over 180 historical aircraft. These aircraft include fighters, bombers, transports, and trainers. All CAF aircraft are restored, maintained, flown, and exhibited by a dedicated volunteer force. The Commemorative Air Force (CAF) boasts an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, each with its own unique history and significance.

Among the bombers, the B-17 Sentimental Journey, B-24 Diamond Lil, and B-29 FIFI stand out as iconic aircraft from World War II. The B-25 series, including Maid in the Shade, Yellow Rose, Devil Dog, Miss Mitchell, and Show Me, further highlight the diverse range of bombers in the CAF’s collection.

The CAF’s fleet of fighters is equally impressive. The P-39 Miss Connie and P-40 are notable for their service in multiple theatres during World War II. The P-47 Thunderbolt, P-51 Gunfighter, Red Nose, and Tuskegee Airmen, along with the P-63, represent some of the most successful and influential fighters of their time. The collection also includes the FG-1D Corsair, FM-2 Wildcat, F6F, F8F, Spitfire, and A6M3, each with its own unique design and capabilities.

“Tuskegee Airmen”, a restored World War II P-51 Mustang flown by the CAF Red Tail Squadron. Photo: Max Haynes — MaxAir2Air.com / CC BY-SA 3.0 DEED.

The CAF also maintains a variety of trainer aircraft, essential for preparing pilots for combat. The collection includes the Model 16 Fleet Finch, BT-13, BT-13A, BT-15, PT-13, PT-17 Stearman, PT-19 Cornell, PT-22, PT-23, and PT-26. Each of these aircraft played a crucial role in training the pilots who would go on to fly the bombers and fighters.

The CAF’s collection also includes a number of transport and other aircraft. The TBM-3, A-26 Night Mission, Lady Liberty, and Shamrock 2-2, along with the SB2C, ME-108 Taifun, and FI-156, showcase the diverse range of aircraft that supported combat operations, whether by transporting troops and supplies, conducting reconnaissance, or serving in other support roles.

The CAF’s fleet also includes aircraft from several foreign countries and other military conflicts since World War II. Each aircraft in the CAF’s collection is a piece of living history, offering a glimpse into the past and a tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of those who served.

Events and Activities

The CAF organizes numerous events and activities to engage the public and promote its mission. These include airshows, living history flight experiences, and educational programs. Many of their aircraft are available for a Living History Flight Experience.

The CAF B-17G Sentimental Journey tours annually from her base at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona. Photo: Airwolfhound from Hertfordshire, UK / CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED.

 The CAF also hosts an annual fundraising event called “12 Planes of Christmas”. In addition, the organization operates the CAF Gift Shop.


Today the CAF has approximately 13,000 members. Membership in the CAF is open to all men and women, ages 18 and older. Cadet membership is open to ages 13-17. You need not be a pilot or veteran to join the CAF.

Final Thoughts

The Commemorative Air Force plays a crucial role in preserving the history of military aviation. Through its extensive collection of aircraft and its numerous events and programs, the CAF brings history to life, educates the public, and honors the men and women who served in the military.


Commemorative Air Force

By Eugene Nielsen

Eugene Nielsen provides intelligence and security consulting services. He has a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of California. His byline has appeared in numerous national and international journals and magazines.

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