HISTORY OF THE FLORIDA WING COMMEMORATIVE AIR FORCE
The Florida Wing CAF http://www.caffl.org is the DeLand based unit of the Commemorative Air Force (CAF) http://www.commemorativeairforce.org that is based in Dallas, Texas. The mission of the CAF is education, such that generations of Americans will value and support the contributions of military aviation in assuring our national freedom. This education is intended to recreate, remind and reinforce the lessons learned from the defining moments in American Military Aviation History.
The Florida Wing is managed by a Wing Staff of seven officers elected by the Wing membership. Comprised totally of volunteers, the Florida Wing CAF currently has 70 members.
The Florida Wing CAF is one of the 74 units which make up the national CAF organization and is the only unit chartered in Florida. The CAF Constitution and Bylaws establish the objectives and outline the rules and procedures, which govern operation of the Corporation. The provisions of this document qualify and establish the CAF as a non- profit, tax-exempt, educational and charitable organization.
The Florida Wing was founded in 1996 by CAF Colonels: Bob Robbins; Dick Russell; Fred McKaig and Dick Kelso. The Wing launched its headquarters in a rented hangar at DeLand Airport and began restoration of a donated L-17B Navion. Wing members were successful restoring the plane to flying condition and exhibited it at dozens of airshows across the U.S. Additionally, the Wing received a second, but flying, L-17 and sponsored a C-45 restoration project which was later sold.
Construction of our current 5,000 sq. ft hangar/museum/library facility started in 2003. The hangar was constructed using donated steel framework and doors. A 3,600 sq. ft. concrete apron and taxiway was added to make the hangar fully operational. The hangar facility includes the Bob Robbins Memorial Library/Museum and a conference room.
In 2005, CAF Headquarters assigned a TBM-3 Avenger torpedo bomber to the Wing for restoration. The Wing carried on a restoration project on this WWII bomber for several years and considerable value to the aircraft was added but due to the world-wide recession the project became untenable. Eventually, the Staff Officers made the hard, but necessary, decision to sell the plane and all parts.
In 2013, the Wing transitioned from a” restoration” to a “flying” operation when CAF Headquarters assigned a flying T-34A Navy Trainer to the Wing. In assuming full responsibility for the proper maintenance, display and use of this vintage trainer, the Wing became custodian of a flying symbol of our national aviation history. Besides maintaining the aircraft, the Wing is responsible for providing an appropriate hangar facility, aircraft support equipment and ensuring all required Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) aircraft inspections as well as ongoing equipment replacement and repair. The T-34 is maintained in top condition and used frequently for exhibit and educational purposes.
The Wing supports an active educational program which includes both display and flying of CAF warbirds. The Wing sponsored a major public event in 2014 when the CAF’s B-29 Bomber “FIFI” was flown into the Deland Airport and exhibited for two days adjacent to the Florida Wing CAF Hangar. In 2015, the Wing hosted the B-24 Squadron Tour at the Florida Wing CAF Hangar. The legendary B-24 Liberator “Diamond Lil“ was available for aircraft tours daily and flights.
In, 2015, the Wing sponsored the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s “Rise Above” travelling educational program exhibit which highlights the courage and determination of the African American Tuskegee Airmen who overcame obstacles to train and fight as U.S. Army Air Corp pilots during the Second World War. The exhibit featured the original film, Rise Above, on a 160-degree panoramic screen in a 30 seat, temperature controlled Movie Theater. During the weekend, the exhibit was joined by the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C for display and rides.
The Wing offers aviation educational program to Girl Scouts. Partnering with representatives of the Girl Scouts of Citrus District Council, Wing members have developed an aviation education program to promote aviation to young women and to inspire them to consider an aviation- related career.
The Wing holds programs to offer area Boy Scouts the opportunity to complete all the requirements of the Aviation Merit Badge in a full day session. At the Florida Wing’s program, the hangar and the aircraft are available as a classroom facility and the Wing provides 10 experienced pilots to guide the Scouts through the program requirements. To better support the program, two Wing members are designated as BSA Merit Badge Counselors. In September 2015, the Wing hosted 22 Boy Scout Troops for their 3 Day fall Camporee, during which time 186 Boy Scouts completed their requirements for the Aviation Merit Badge.
The Florida Wing’s program to preserve the heritage of America’s and Volusia County’s participation in past global conflicts is highlighted by the preservation and exhibition of uniforms, equipment, flags, medals, flight and warbird manuals, and airplane models showcased in the Wing’s Library/Museum.
The Bob Robbins Memorial Library/Museum is housed in a separate room in the aircraft hangar facility. The library was established as a cornerstone of the museum and contains books, tapes, historic movies, oral histories, photos and serves as a repository of US aviation-related historic memorabilia. The library collection is available to students, residents and visitors for research.