DANNELLY FIELD, Ala. --
Flashes of red can regularly be seen streaking through the skies around lower Alabama as pilots from the Alabama Air National Guard fly their F-16 Fighting Falcons, honing their skills in routine training flights. But keen-eyed observers searching the skies on Thursday, September 6th, 2018 could have seen a unique tribute to the past, present, and future of the Tuskegee Airmen legacy that was born here more than 77 years ago.
The men and women of the 100th Fighter Squadron Red Tails at Dannelly Field know their legacy and the importance of that red paint on the tails of their jets. It’s an homage to the original Red Tails; the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group (and 100th Fighter Squadron) who served heroically during World War II. The first African-American military pilots the country had ever seen, those Airmen painted the tails of their P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft to distinguish friend from foe during the chaos of battle.
The Red Tails Over Montgomery Air Show was planned for September 8th, and US Air Force Maj. Rich “Sheriff” Peace, a fighter pilot with the Red Tails, realized that a Red Tail P-51 Mustang would be flying in for the show, along with an F-22 Raptor from the 301st Fighter Squadron, and an idea began to form. The 301st is also directly descended from the Tuskegee Airmen.
“We realized we had an opportunity to do something historic”, Peace said later. “That was to take three Tuskegee aircraft, with three black pilots, and do a flight over Tuskegee.”
The past, present, and future of the Red Tail legacy would be on full display; a powerful image to inspire the next generation of Airmen.
After coordination, phone calls, and support from leadership up to the MAJCOM level, a dissimilar formation flight was approved. The three aircraft would fly in formation over Moton Field in Tuskegee, where the Tuskegee Airmen trained, and Dannelly Field, where the 100th flies today. Peace would fly the F-16. Brad Lang, a Commemorative Air Force pilot, would fly the P-51. And US Air Force Maj. Paul “Loco” Lopez, the ACC F-22 Demonstration Team commander and pilot, would fly the F-22.
“We all stand on the shoulders of giants,” Lopez said before the flight. “If you look around here in Montgomery, you can see how the Air Force values preserving our legacy and honoring our heritage. For me, it’s very humbling to know that a lot of people went through great sacrifices so we can all be here.”
Peace, Lopez and Lang took to the skies together. The flight was smooth, once the fighter pilots became accustomed to the P-51’s relatively leisurely pace.
“I had seen (the P-51) in air shows, but being right next to it, it’s just so beautiful and majestic,” Peace said after the flight. “Seeing it flying over Moton Field was pretty awesome.”
After a series of formations and photo opportunities, the jets landed back in Montgomery. The flight had come and gone, but its impact on the pilots, and undoubtedly those who hear their story, will last.
“The legacy flight was to honor the memory of the Tuskegee Airmen, and to bring visibility and light to the sacrifices they made then, what we’re doing now, and how they paved the way forward to the future,” Peace remarked afterwards. “To see what their work and sacrifice led to today was a pretty amazing thing. I was honored and proud to be part of it.”