The origin of the Commemorative Air Force dates back to 1951, with the purchase of a surplus Curtiss P-40 Warhawk by Lloyd Nolen, a former World War II Army Air Corps flight instructor. In 1957, Nolen and four friends purchased a P-51 Mustang, each sharing in the $2,500 cost of the aircraft. With the purchase of the Mustang, known as Red Nose, the group was unofficially founded.
The organization was originally known as the "Confederate Air Force." Following a membership vote in 2001 and made effective on January 1, 2002, the organization is now known as the Commemorative Air Force.
In 1958, the group made their second purchase ~ two Grumman F8F Bearcats for $805 each. Along with the P-51, this gave the pilots the two most advanced piston-engine fighters to see service with the U.S. Army Air Forces and the U.S. Navy.
In 1960, the CAF began seriously to search for other World War II aircraft, but it became quickly apparent that few remained in flying condition. The CAF Colonels were shocked to find that the aircraft which played such a major role in winning World War II were being rapidly and systematically destroyed. No one, not even the Air Force or Navy were attempting to preserve even one of each type of these historic aircraft for display for future generations.
On September 6, 1961, the CAF was chartered as a nonprofit Texas corporation in order to restore and preserve World War II-era combat aircraft. By the end of the year, there were nine aircraft in the CAF fleet.
In 1965, the first museum building consisting of 26,000 square feet was completed at old Rebel Field, Mercedes, Texas. The CAF created a new Rebel Field at Harlingen, Texas, when they moved there in 1968, occupying three large buildings. The CAF fleet continued to grow and included medium and heavy bombers such as the B-29, B-25, B-17 and B-24.
Today, the Commemorative Air Force is comprised of over 11,000 members, several hundred of whom serve as pilots and flight or maintenance crew members committed to preserving World War II American aviation heritage. The CAF is responsible for operating a fleet of more than 140 airplanes known as the Ghost Squadron. The year 1991 marked the beginning of a new era for the CAF with the opening of the new Midland, Texas, headquarters and museum facilities.
The CAF is an all-volunteer organization, made up of members from all walks of life. Membership is open to all men and women, age 18 or older. You need not be a veteran nor a pilot to join the CAF. Privately funded and totally self-supporting, the nonprofit, tax-exempt group is dedicated to preserving the military aviation heritage of World War II.