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Pilot Spotlight: Doug Rozendaal

CAF Red Tail Pilot Doug Rozendaal
CAF Red Tail Pilot Doug Rozendaal

Some future pilots are inspired by a parent’s love of aviation. Some may visit an airshow and discover their passion by the sights and sounds of aircraft in action. Others simply look up.

And so it was for a young Doug Rozendaal, now the CAF Red Tail Squadron coordinator and P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen pilot.

Doug grew up on his family’s farm in central Iowa. With time on his hands and the great outdoors as his playground, Doug spent much time during his childhood watching the skies. He had an innate love of all things flight.

“It must have been instinctual. I was always staring up at the sky,” recalls Doug. “I don’t remember ever not wanting to fly. I’d even build cockpits out of cardboard boxes. I was obsessed with flying.”

Without an aviation mentor, Doug sought out his lifelong dedication to flight on his own. He learned to fly by paying his own way, bit by bit, for lessons in Nevada, Iowa. He became a private pilot, renting airplanes whenever he could. As luck would have it, he got hired as a sales rep for a company that gave him the opportunity to fly himself around for sales calls, and was able to parlay his personal passion into his work.

As careers shifted and airborne sales calls were no longer part of his work, a chance encounter with a DC-3 led to a new experience along his aviation path, giving him the opportunity to fly freight for FedEx in the DC-3. Right seat in this aircraft led to left seat in a Twin Beach.

Doug was introduced to the world of warbird aviation at a CAF airshow in 1989, joining the Minnesota wing shortly after. In his career he has logged more than 10,000 hours in the air flying more than 170 different types of aircraft. As a certified warbird pilot he has flown a P-51 Mustang, Corsair, Hellcat, Wildcat, P-40, TBM, Zero, DC-3, PBY Catalina, BT-13, T-6, T-28 trainers, as well as the CAF’s B-25 bomber Miss Mitchell.

Doug performing an acrobatic move in the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen.
Doug Rozendaal performing an acrobatic move in the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen.

Doug’s involvement with the CAF Red Tail Squadron began in the early stages of the initial restoration of the Tuskegee Airmen P-51C Mustang when he met Don Hinz, the Squadron’s original leader.

“Don was a visionary and really exciting to be around,” says Doug. Don’s enthusiasm drew Doug into the project and upon his tragic passing in 2004, Doug stepped in and was the group’s leader for several years, spearheaded the aircraft’s second restoration.

Creating the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit was the next step in fulfilling Don’s original vision of educating and inspiring through sharing the too-often untold story of the Tuskegee Airmen. Doug had remembered being immersed in the panoramic, bird’s eye experience of the O Canada! exhibit as a young boy at Disneyworld and incorporated the concept into the RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit.

“I saw the O Canada! exhibit when I was 10 years old,” says Doug. “There’s a point in the film that looks and feels as if you’re flying over canola fields. 40 years after seeing that on screen, while flying my own plane I found myself over those same fields.”

It was this same immersive experience he wanted to bring to the Squadron’s outreach programs. At a time when they were ready to change the focus from curriculum development to something more infectious and engaging, O Canada! was the inspiration to create an environment that would be as close as possible to putting kids in the airplane.

“Flying the Mustang for audiences is cool, but the luster wears off quickly,” said Doug. “The high of telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen lasts. Often times I’ll stand at the exit of the exhibit to see the reactions of the folks as they leave. Some will say thanks. Some will leave with tears in their eyes. This is powerful and rewarding work.”

Doug Rozendaal piloting the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen. Photo by Adam Glowaski.
Doug Rozendaal piloting the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen. Photo by Adam Glowaski.

2 Comments

  1. Arleen Talley

    I had the privilege of flying with Doug in the “Tuskegee Airmen” yesterday. Like a small child, my reaction to the flying experience was “WOW”. Doug’s passion for the aircraft and the squadron was evident. Everyone with whom my husband and I came into contact was so kind. We’d like to express our appreciation to Doug and the entire CAF Red Tail Squadron for their dedication, enthusiasm and work to continue to share the Tuskegee Airmen’s story.

    • Thank you for your nice posting, I apologize for the delay in responding but am an office of one and am just now catching up with posts! With your permission I’d like to share your comments in a newsletter. If you have a photo to share as well please email it to me (LaVone) at info@redtail.org

      Since the debut of the Traveling Exhibit in July 2011 over 164,000 visitors have experienced the RISE ABOVE program and over 85,000 children have received a free inspirational dog tag featuring the six principles: Aim High – Believe In Yourself – Use Your Brain – Never Quit – Be Ready to Go – Expect To Win – these principles serve as the foundation for our outreach programs and are based on the experiences and successes of the Tuskegee Airmen.

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