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, CAF Red Tail Squadron 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’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.”