Flying the CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang might be the BEST. JOB. EVER. Soaring amongst the clouds, feeling the purr of that engine and meeting people all over the country to share the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is nothing short of an honor. In today’s final installment of our Pilot Spotlight series, learn how CAF Red Tail Squadron Pilot Paul Stojkov channeled his love of flight into a career in the skies.
Paul, a Cleveland native, grew up with an innate desire to become a pilot. “I have always wanted to fly,” he said. “My parents have said that it was the only thing I had ever wanted to do and it was all I ever talked about since day one. They, along with my grandmother, were always 110% behind me in achieving and supporting my goals.”
Knowing he would be too tall for military ejection seat restrictions, Paul took the general aviation route to learn to fly. At age 13 he got his taste by learning to fly gliders and was taking solo trips by the time he was 14. He made the switch to powered aircraft the next year, setting the goal to solo in a single engine plane by the time he was 16. He worked hard to earn the money he needed for flying lessons by mowing lawns, waxing cars, shoveling snow and doing whatever he could to reach his goal.
The hard work and determination paid off. Before he even graduated high school, Paul had earned his private and multi-engine pilot ratings, and shortly after achieved instrument and commercial ratings. In order to keep flying, he attended a local 2-year college after high school, and then went on to attend Bowling Green State University in Toledo, Ohio.
His first job as a pilot was flying a Beech 18 hauling auto-parts for an on-demand charter flight operation. He went on to fly for two different commuter airlines before moving on to flying a 727 for UPS. That led to a job with Continental Airlines, which has since merged with United Airlines, where he continues to fly today.
Paul’s journey with the CAF Red Tail Squadron began in 2007. Flying a P-51C Mustang may sit atop many pilot’s wish list and of course Paul’s desire to fly the aircraft was great. But after talking with Doug Rozendaal and Don Hinz, the original forces behind the organization, he knew he wanted to support Don’s vision to share the message of the Tuskegee Airmen with audiences everywhere.
“I had read about the Tuskegee Airmen throughout various stages of my aviation endeavors and felt it would be an honor and a privilege to be able to contribute to this noble cause,” said Paul.
Paul has had many great experiences flying the P-51C Mustang in air shows and events on behalf of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. He recalls one noteworthy moment, though, that had a great significance for him.
On one particular weekend in 2010, Paul was requested to showcase the P-51 for some flyovers at events in Dayton, Ohio. His mother was in town visiting and, along with Paul’s wife, came to pick him after the last flight. As they were waiting for him to collect his gear, his mother got a chance to meet Dr. Harold Brown, an original Tuskegee Airmen and supporter of the CAF Red Tail Squadron. This proved to be an especially unique moment because Paul’s mother had grown up in Berlin, Germany during the war.
“Dr. Brown stopped by to see the aircraft and introduce himself,” recalls Paul. “I explained to him that my mom was from Berlin and probably saw him fly overhead during the war, and I explained to my mom that Dr. Brown was a Tuskegee Airman. Wow. There were tears, hugs, images I will never forget!”
The volunteers and supporters of the CAF Red Tail Squadron know that moments like these are not, in actuality, few and far between. Rather, the outstanding effort and courage of the Tuskegee Airmen has a far-reaching scope, even today, all these decades after WWII. It is evidenced by moments just like this when people get a chance to see the aircraft up close and share their or their family’s history that is tied to the Tuskegee Airmen. It is fuel that adds to the continued hard work of the CAF Red Tail Squadron to ensure the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is known to all and passed on to future generations.
As in Paul’s experience growing up with the desire to take to the skies, nurturing a child’s dream is a gift to be freely given. Every time we bring our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit to an event, or fly the P-51C Mustang in an air show or our educational materials are shared in the classroom, a child, teenager or even a grown up may get just the inspiration they need to pursue their dreams and RISE ABOVE.