The Brig. Gen. Charles McGee and Don Hinz Theater at the Henry B. Tippie National Aviation Education Center is named in honor of Brigadier General Charles McGee, a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, and Donald E. Hinz, a Commemorative Air Force (CAF) member singularly devoted to telling the story of America’s first black military aviation unit.
Hinz was an aviator in the U.S. Navy when he first heard about the Tuskegee Airmen. From air shows to classrooms, museum tours and beyond, Hinz was always ready to share the amazing story of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Hinz was an inspired visionary who saw a great American history lesson being ignored. Refusing to sit quietly, he chose to take action and ensure this important story was not lost to history. This decision led to his part in the formation of “The Red Tail Project" with the Commemorative Air Force.
Hinz, who was a CAF Colonel (a member of the CAF), assembled and led a core group of supporters and staff to undertake what, in the eyes of many, looked to be an impossible task.
Conceived as a flying tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen, the task was to restore what once had been their signature aircraft to flying condition; a rare P-51C model Mustang. Hinz’s idea was to use this remarkable airplane as a “museum without walls” to bring the story of the Tuskegee Airmen into every classroom in America.
In a relentless pursuit of his dream, he spent thousands of hours in research, fundraising, lectures, and appearances around the nation to gain approval for the Red Tail Project from both the CAF and the Tuskegee Airmen. Approval was received from the airmen and endorsed by the Red Tail Project’s first spokesperson, actress and singer, Lena Horne.
The CAF acquired a P-51C from a technical school in Montana. Financial support was hard to achieve because people were concerned about the poor condition of the aircraft. Its wings had been cut off and it was missing many parts.
Through Hinz’s unwavering determination to see America right an historical injustice from years ago, success was achieved. The aircraft finally flew again in 2001, after being rebuilt by Hinz and the Minnesota Wing of the CAF. The P-51C Mustang was named “Tuskegee Airmen”, and commonly referred to as “Red Tail”.
Just as so many of the young Tuskegee Airmen gave their lives in combat fighting for freedom and justice, Hinz gave his life working to bring their stories to the world. In May 2004, he had just finished flying a tribute to the D-Day invasion and was making his approach to land at the Memorial Day “Wings of Freedom Airshow” in Red Wing, Minnesota, when the Mustang suffered a catastrophic engine failure. In his final moments, Hinz made certain that the crash path of the Red Tail Mustang would prevent any injury to those on the ground.
Hinz’s mission was to present the living legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen to the world and his vision was to have their story in every classroom in America. Inspired by his sacrifice, and his commitment to telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, many CAF Colonel members banded together to ensure that Hinz’s mission continued. The Red Tail Mustang “Tuskegee Airmen” was rebuilt and returned to the skies in 2009. Today, the Hinz legacy has become the CAF Rise Above Squadron that shares the story of the Tuskegee Airmen to over 40,000 youth annually. It is the result of Hinz’s goal to restore an inspirational symbol representing the contributions of African Americans during World War II, and preserve this history through an aviation education program.