P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen
The CAF Red Tail Squadron’s P-51C Mustang, named Tuskegee Airmen, is an authentic and fully restored operational fighter from the WWII era. This awe-inspiring aircraft sparks conversations to educate young and old alike about the often-overlooked history of the Tuskegee Airmen that flew this same model as their signature aircraft in WWII. It is quite simply a museum without walls… and an awe inspiring one at that!
Photo courtesy Kevin Hong/Sector K Media
Photo courtesy Air Force Historical Research Agency
Complete with the unique red tail paint scheme synonymous with the Tuskegee Airmen, the aircraft is flown in numerous air shows around the country each season and is available for up-close viewing on static display at community events throughout the year, drawing crowds wherever it lands with the unmistakable purr of its Merlin engine.
The P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen honors not only the pilots of the famed all-black units, but the support personnel as well. This collective group makes up the Tuskegee Airmen, and includes pilots, bombardiers, navigators, ground crews, mechanics, cooks, ambulance drivers, medical staff and administrative personnel. The aircraft has been painted in a scheme that honors the four fighter squadrons in the 332nd Group:
- The red and yellow cowling represents the 302nd Fighter Squadron
- The A on the side represents the 99th Fighter Squadron
- The yellow banding on the wings represents the 301st Fighter Squadron
- The red fins on the wings represents the 100th Fighter Squadron
The Mustang also features the phrase By Request just under the side windows. That was the name Benjamin O. Davis Jr., the pioneering pilot and leader of the 332nd Fighter Group, gave his aircraft. Davis chose the name because Tuskegee-trained pilots were being specifically called upon to escort bomber aircraft because of their reputation and skill to get the bombers to their targets unharmed… by request.
|P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen Specifications|
|Type:||Single seat, long-range escort fighter (This aircraft is modified with a rear seat)|
|Engine :||Rolls-Royce (Packard) Merlin liquid-cooled V-1650-7 engine developing 1,490 HP|
|Weight:||Empty 7,635 pounds, maximum loaded 12,100 pounds|
|Armament:||Four Colt-Browning M2 .50-inch machine guns with a total capacity of 1,000 rounds;
external mounts up to 1,000 pounds of bombs or six high-velocity aerial rockets
History of the Aircraft
The P-51 Mustang aircraft manufactured by North American Aviation for use as a fighter in WWII made it’s debut in 1940, going into service in 1942 with the Royal Air Force, then in 1942 with the US Army Air Corps.
Photo courtesy Arlins Aircraft Service Inc. via Scott Thompson
Our P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen, tail number N61429, saw service stateside as a trainer in 1945, then declared surplus after the war ended. It was displayed at Montana State College (now Montana State University) for 40 years before being donated for restoration. The CAF took possession of the aircraft in the late 1980s, and was initially restored to flying condition in 2001.
|Key historical events of the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen|
|Manufactured:||North American Aviation in Dallas, Texas|
|Delivered:||US Army Air Corps, April 7, 1944|
|1st Assignment:||341st AAF Base Unit Pinellas, Florida; flown as trainer|
|Transferred:||378th AAF Base Unit in Venice, Florida, December 1944; flown as trainer|
|Transferred:||339th AAF Base Unit in Thomasville, Georgia, June 1945; flown as trainer|
|Declared Surplus:||October 1945; P51-C 42-64129 was dropped from inventory|
|Last Flight:||September 1945; flown to Montana State College in Bozeman, Montana; utilized for vocational training|
|Donated:||1970; donated to Confederate Air, in Harlingen, Texas. Registered as N215CA, the airframe traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota, back to Harlingen, and then to the Great Planes Wing of CAF in Council Bluffs, Iowa in 1983.|
|Transferred:||1988, transferred to CAF Minnesota Wing|
|First restoration:||Began in 1996, completed May 2001|
|Second restoration:||Began in 2004, completed 2009|
In the mid-1990s, Don Hinz, a retired US Navy Commander and businessman, spearheaded the foundation of what would become the CAF Red Tail Squadron along with members of the CAF Minnesota Wing. Their vision was to restore a P-51C Mustang as a vehicle to spark conversations and educate young and old alike about the often-overlooked history of the Tuskegee Airmen.
The CAF Minnesota Wing dubbed the initial restoration the “Red Tail Project” and raised more than $500,000 to complete the work. Volunteers provided much of the labor, contributing their time and expertise to bring the project to fruition. In 2001, the Mustang was christened Tuskegee Airmen, painted with a bright red tail and flew again for the first time in more than 45 years.
Unfortunately, at a great loss to the organization and entire aviation community, Don lost his life in an accident caused by an engine malfunction of the Tuskegee Airmen at an air show in 2004. Don was credited with using his piloting skills to avoid injuries on the ground and a post-crash fire in the dead-stick situation. Tragically, he survived the accident only to succumb to his injuries the next day.
To honor him and to continue the important outreach work of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, the aircraft was fully restored a second time and returned to the skies in 2009, a testament to the group’s perseverance, belief in its mission and commitment to the vision of Don and other founding members.
For an in-depth look at the history of the CAF Red Tail Squadron, the restorations of the aircraft and the Squadron’s commitment to the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen, check out the award-winning film “Red Tail Reborn.”