Skip to main content

The Lost Cause Loses Its Wings

June 2024
1min read


The Confederate States of America surrendered its army at Appomattox in April 1865. It gave up its air force last year and its flagship air show this year.

The Confederate Air Force was born in 1957, started by Lloyd Nolen, a World War II flight instructor who had purchased a surplus Curtiss P-40 Warhawk in 1951 and kept it in Webster, Texas. In 1957 he and four friends doubled the collection with the addition of a P-51 Mustang, and one day they discovered that someone had painted “Confederate Air Force” on its side. The name stuck. In the words of Neils Agather, a former official of the organization, “You’re looking at South Texas in the fifties. They were a bunch of crop-dusters out there having fun flying old planes. They never dreamed it would grow into an international organization with 10,000 members.”

That’s what it had become by last year. It had more than 150 vintage combat planes in 27 states and 5 countries. And fundraising was getting difficult. Officials would meet with potential corporate backers and things would look good until, according to Agather, some executive would say, “Wait, wait, wait, what’s this name?”

Last year the group took action, renaming itself the Commemorative Air Force. Some members, of course, were disappointed. “None of us really wanted to change,” one said. A few members quit over the change, but another more typically conceded, “No way Fd leave it. A man’s got to have his toys.”

In another blow to the airborne Old South, the Wings Over Dixie Air Show, held each September in Peachtree City, Georgia, this year becomes the Great Georgia Air Show. Greg Hall, chairman of the show’s board, likewise blamed trouble with sponsors.

Enjoy our work? Help us keep going.

Now in its 75th year, American Heritage relies on contributions from readers like you to survive. You can support this magazine of trusted historical writing and the volunteers that sustain it by donating today.