Inspiration comes in many forms, unique to each of us – an encouraging teacher, a profound book, or perhaps a school field trip to a historical exhibit.
For a boy growing up in West Orange, NJ, that inspiration literally came on the wings of birds; birds of prey specifically, found in the journals of the National Audubon Society and the Sierra Club. Commemorative Air Force (CAF) Red Tail Squadron leader and volunteer P-51 pilot Brad Lang developed a love of aviation from an early age, beginning with the fascination of these birds of prey, with the guidance and support of his parents, who also instilled in him the value of helping others.
And just as the RISE ABOVE exhibit strives to inspire people of all ages, Lang’s path to his devoted work with the CAF Red Tail Squadron was peppered with inspirational moments and experiences, coupled with determination and hard work, which led to a career in aviation.
“On Sundays after church my father took our family to Newark Airport to watch aircraft arrivals and departures,” recalls Lang. “On one occasion I remember the weather being very poor. A United DC-8 freighter appeared out of the overcast and I was amazed that anyone could find the airport after flying in those weather conditions. I was fascinated.”
Around the same time, Lang discovered that his English teacher, George Moffat, happened to be the 1970 and 1974 World Soaring Champion. The eager 6th grader admits that he spent many afternoons interrupting Moffat’s break periods in order to engage in long conversations about flying and soaring.
Lang’s fascination with flight was also influenced by the sport of model aviation.
“In 1973 I observed my first RC model. I didn’t know anything about RC, but the pilot talked to me after his flight to explain the maneuvers he just flew,” said Lang. “His name was ‘Jersey’ Jim Martin and he was one of the best in the world.”
This experience inspired Lang to fly with the same precision that he had observed with Jersey Jim and he eventually went on to fly RC models in aerobatic competition.
But the final hook that led to Lang’s long career as a pilot? Attending the Reading, PA airshow in 1976. After watching the shows and meeting the pilots, he knew that his calling was to be a pilot himself and he began in earnest to search out the path to a career in aviation.
By the 12th grade he had joined the Civil Air Patrol and was preparing for college. “My parents were not wealthy,” Lang remembers. “When I expressed in interest in flying they encouraged me to get a job to pay for the lessons. So while I attended Beloit College in Beloit, WI I worked to pay for my own flying lessons. I was very busy but managed to obtain my private pilots license.”
Lang was determined to become an airline pilot, which required greater and specialized training. Upon graduation from Beloit College, Lang intended to enter Purdue University’s aviation program in Indiana, which was very competitive in the airline industry… and also very expensive. Lang decided to take a year off from school to work. He did so as a vocational evaluator at Goodwill Industries in South Bend, IN, and as planned, he entered Purdue one year later where he went on to graduate from the aviation program.
His first aviation job out of college was as a flight instructor in Tampa, but after a year Atlantic Southeast Airlines hired him as a pilot. Two years later he went on to Delta Airlines. Years of hard work and determination had paid off and a boy’s dream was realized.
Lang’s talent and passion for aviation merged with his desire to help and inspire others when he met Phil Schacht of the Commemorative Air Force while he was competing at the National Aerobatics Championship. At the time Lang was moving up the ranks and hoped to one day pursue of a spot on the Unlimited Aerobatic Team. He then learned that the CAF was restoring a P-51 Mustang in Tuskegee colors, and went on to meet with Red Tail project leader John Schuck, and then CAF Red Tail Squadron founder Don Hinz.
“I was convinced that inspiring a different generation with the lessons of the Tuskegee Airmen was worth shifting my focus away from the aerobatic team,” said Lang. “And the idea of having an operational red-tailed Mustang was exciting.”
In the time he’s been with the squadron, Lang recounts that the RISE ABOVE traveling exhibit has taken the project to a new level of educational interaction. But he admits it’s the crowd reaction that is most satisfying.
“This is often reflected when you see the joy and excitement of the young people who have just seen our movie or airplane fly,” he says. “The CAF Red Tail Squadron, as a team, has been able to share a unique part of American history that continues to inspire future generations. I’ve had many people inspire me in a similar manner.”
Thank you Brad for your commitment and continued service to the squadron.