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You Can Fly: Red Tail dream alive in AlabamaYou Can Fly: Red Tail dream alive in Alabama

Tuskegee legacy living ‘in the hearts of future aviators’

The Red Tail Scholarship Foundation honors World War II Tuskegee Airmen by training future generations of African American pilots and mechanics from Moton Field Municipal Airport in central Alabama, the site of a 275-acre grass airfield where Tuskegee flight students practiced basic flying skills during World War II. The first black U.S. military aviators went on to defy expectations, and their heroic performance in World War II helped pave the way for future black pilots. The aviation scholarship foundation was established in 2017 to honor their legacy.
Pilot Briefing May 2020
Photography by David Tulis

Board member Hammond Cobb said the Red Tail Scholarship Foundation’s objective is to create more African American aviators than the nearly 1,000 fighter and bomber pilots who earned their wings during the war. “The legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen is not in a museum, but it’s in the hearts of future aviators,” Hammond said.

Tuskegee Airmen historian Rob Brewington’s research indicates that fighter squadron pilots known for the red tails of their North American P–51 Mustangs first took to the sky in Boeing Stearman PT–13 and PT–17 biplane trainers, or a Fairchild PT–19 monoplane from facilities at Moton Field that now are the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Additional training took place at Tuskegee Army Air Field, several miles northwest of Moton Field.

Brewington pointed out that in addition to the Mustangs with their distinctive tails, the fighter squadrons deployed a variety of aircraft including the Curtiss P–40 Warhawk, the Bell P–39 Airacobra, the Republic P–47 Thunderbolt, and others during missions to support the advance of ground forces in the European theater.

Aviation students interested in pursuing flight training can apply for a Red Tail scholarship, and if approved, can train for their private pilot certificate in Cessna 172s, Piper Cherokees, and a Cessna 150 converted to a tailwheel configuration. An American Champion Decathlon is pressed into service for tailwheel endorsements and aerobatic training. A maintenance apprenticeship program is for students who want to pursue aviation technician certification.

Craig Moore was an engineer at Scaled Composites in California, but he was drawn to the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and left to become the maintenance director for the Red Tail facility. His great-uncle William J. Childs was the head of maintenance for the legendary World War II squadron. “It’s kind of just in my blood that I have a mechanical inclination because I have pilots, mechanics, [and] engineers in my family.” He is also a pilot working on his flight instructor certificate.

“What’s not inspiring about the Tuskegee Airmen?” asked flight student Emilia Tolbert, who relishes walking in the footsteps of history. “Like, literally, if you say, ‘Tuskegee Airmen,’ people think about heroes.”

She said an introduction to aviation spurred her to consider flying, and with the proper training she feels that her life trajectory is pointed in the right direction. “That exposure is really key. Then you start thinking, ‘I could actually be a pilot.’” When she tells others about her flight training lessons, she said the goal seems more realistic.

The program’s first student is Torius Moore, a U.S. Air Force ROTC cadet and an aspiring astronaut. The 22-year-old is pursuing a triple major in aerospace engineering, physics, and math, and because of his flight experience, he is acting as the group’s chief pilot. “The Tuskegee Airmen—they are the reason I wake up every day and do what I do,” he said. “They are the reason why I work hard. I wouldn’t be here without them, and they are the reason why I am going to keep on growing to continue that tradition, [to] keep on working hard, and hopefully we can make them proud.”


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David Tulis

David Tulis

Associate Editor Web/ePilot
AOPA Associate Editor Web/ePilot David Tulis joined AOPA in 2015 and is a seaplane-rated private pilot who enjoys vintage aircraft, aerobatic flying, and photography.

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