WWII Fighter P-51 Mustang – Listen to Its Engine Roar

The P-51C that is housed at the Fantasy of Flight Museum, Polk City, FL.

In a salute to the three Tuskegee Airmen appearing at Fantasy of Flight, Kermit Weeks flies the attraction’s P-51C Thursday afternoon.

P-51 Fly-By Video

There’s nothing quite like the roar of a P-51 Mustang engine. Tuskegee Airman Leo Gray’s eyes lit up when he heard Weeks fly overhead. The Red Tail pilot called its sound as sweet as honey.


Three Tuskegee Airmen Tell Their Tales, P-51 Fly-By Video

Some of the Tuskegee Airmen from the 332nd Fighter Group were known as Red Tail Angels because the tail of their P-51 Mustang fighter was painted bright red. This one was flown by famous Tuskegee ace pilot Lee Archer and now resides at the Fantasy of Flight Museum in Polk City, FL.

The large open hangar at the Fantasy of Flight aviation attraction was a perfect setting for the three WWII veteran pilots who are all in their 80s. The Tuskegee Airmen were surrounded by vintage aircraft like the P-51 Mustang fighter.

Leo Gray, 87, of Ft. Lauderdale, George Hardy, 86, of Sarasota and Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg sat behind a table on an elevated platform looking out at an audience filled with high school students, veterans and members of the community who came to meet them.

All three men are members of the famous African-American air corps that trained in Tuskegee during WWII. Their collective story of battling against the segregated military so they could “go to war” has been told in literature, in documentary films and on Hollywood’s big screen.

Keel talked about one of more memorable moments when he was with the first group of black officers to arrive at a Texas Army base for additional training on bombardiers. He said they were greeted by a white lieutenant colonel who laid down some rules.

Tuskegee Airmen Daniel Keel (L), George Hardy (C), Leo Gray (R) received a standing ovation from the crowd of high school students, veterans and members of the community as they entered for the symposium at Fantasy of Flight.

“One we could not eat in the officers’ mess, two we could not go in the officers’ club, three if we go to the base theater we couldn’t sit in the officers’ section and four, if we go to town, we had to ride in the back of the bus,” Keel said. “I knew I was in trouble as soon as he said that.”

Keel and the other two Tuskegee Airmen are participating in additional public symposiums scheduled Friday and Saturday at Fantasy of Flight at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. just off Exit 44 on Interstate 4.

I’ll have more of their stories over the next few weeks. All three men said they continue to do public forums with the hope of invigorating the younger generation to strive for lofty, worthwhile goals.

P-51 Fly-By Video

If you want to see the P-51 Mustang fly – click HERE. The owner of Fantasy of Flight took the fighter plane up for a fly-by to honor his guests. Unfortunately, I was inside doing interviews and missed the demonstration, but we heard it. Leo’s eyes lit up when he heard the distinctive roar of that Merlin engine roar by outside. The Red Tail pilot called its sound as sweet as honey.

The P-51 Mustang on display outside after the fly-by.


Tweeting with the Tuskegee Airmen at Fantasy of Flight

TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school in 1941. Partial three-quarter left front view from low angle of Vultee BT-13 trainer at left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

They’ve been lionized in literature and films, most recently “Red Tails,” and now Thursday morning several members of the original Tuskegee Airmen will be in Polk City, Florida at Fantasy of Flight for a public forum.

And I will be there too to cover the event live via Twitter. If you can’t make it to the aviation museum to meet these distinguished WWII veterans in person, you can follow their comments and interaction with the audience at the special Twitter hashtag: #TuskegeeTales.

The Tuskegee Airmen scheduled to speak are Leo Gray, 91, of Ft. Lauderdale who served as a consultant on the movie “Red Tails;” Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg;  George Hardy, 88, of Sarasota.

The African-American Airmen will talk about their experiences flying bomber cover during WWII while serving in a segregated military. And, they will take questions from the public. Be sure to join me Thursday at 10:30 a.m. (EST) on Twitter at #TuskegeeTales.

Additional forums are planned at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. at Fantasy of Flight, 1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E. Polk City, FL. 33868 (863)984-3500.

Tuskeegee Airmen Visit the White House, Fantasy of Flight

They’ve been guests at the White House for a screening of the film “Red Tails“, now four Tuskegee airmen are headed to Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida.

For a limited three-day event, four of the Tuskegee Airmen will share their stories about serving during WWII when the military was segregated with visitors to the Fantasy of Flight aviation museum in Central Florida. There are only about 50 of the original 1,000 pilots and 200 of the original 15,000 ground crew that made up the Tuskegee Airmen still living.

Original Tuskegee Airmen honored previously at Fantasy of Flight (l to r): Lt. Col. Hiram Mann, Lt. Col. Leo Gray, Lt. Col. Lee Archer and Dr. Roscoe Brown

“The Dared to Fly” program – featuring the Tuskegee Airmen –  is scheduled Thursday, Friday and Saturday, (Feb. 9-11, 2012). Each day there will be two open forums, at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m., which include a question and answer session. Afterward, there will be a meet-and-greet and autograph signings. The forums are open to those who pay admission to the Fantasy of Flight and annual pass holders. Scheduled to appear at Fantasy of Flight are:

  • Leo Gray, 91, of Ft. Lauderdale who served as a consultant on the recently released Lucas film, “Red Tails
  • Daniel Keel, 89, of Leesburg
  • George Hardy, 88, of Sarasota

Fantasy of Flight also is holding an essay contest with cash prizes for students writing about how the Tuskegee airmen inspire their generation.

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama host Tuskegee Airmen at a showing of the movie "Red Tails" at the White House, Jan. 13, 2012. Cicero Satterfield is in the second row, far right. White House photo.

Tuskegee Airmen: “They Dared to Fly” Essay Contest

Tuskegee Airmen, 1945. Photo by Toni Frissell. Prints and Photographs Division. Reproduction No.: LC-F9-02-4503-330-5 (8-6) Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The Tuskegee Airmen have been depicted in books, news stories and films – most recently “Red Tails” by Lucas Films. Now students in 4th through 12th grade have a chance to write their own stories – essays on how the Tuskegee flyers have inspired them. Winners will receive cash prizes.

Fantasy of Flight, a Florida aviation attraction,  is sponsoring the “They Dared to Fly” student essay contest as a tribute to the Tuskegee Airmen and to honor Black History Month.

You can learn more about how the African-American Airmen helped break down color barriers in the military during WWII at the Library of Congress website. The WWII Tuskegee Airmen and supporters also maintain a website.

Some guidelines for participating in the “They Dared to Fly” Essay Contest:

  • The students should describe how the Tuskegee Airmen used the principles of leadership, excellence, advocacy and determination to succeed.
  • Or the student can describe how they can use these values to achieve a personal goal of their own.
  • Entries will be judged on overall content, including spelling, grammar, punctuation, legibility and penmanship.
  • Prizes will be awarded in three age categories: grades 4-5, grades 6-8 and high school.
  • First place essayists will receive $100; second place $75 and third place $50.
  • Entries must be postmarked or hand delivered prior to 5 p.m. on or before February 20, 2012.
  • Mail or drop off entries to Fantasy of Florida, 1400 Broadway Blvd. SE, Polk City, FL 33686

An application form and the contest rules are available HERE.

Additionally, Fantasy of Flight is hosting some original Tuskegee Airmen, including George Hardy of Sarasota for a special symposium series Feb. 9-11, 2012.

Recalling the D-Day Invasion and Other Memories

WWII D-Day Invasion. Photo courtesy U.S. Army.

WWII Veterans are scheduled to share their personal D-Day recollections of the largest military invasion in world history Saturday at Fantasy of Flight in Polk City, Florida.

The invasion of Normandy is one installment of the theme attraction’s six-part series: Legends & Legacies Symposium. The series invites WWII aviation heroes and their families to offer a glimpse of what it was like to fly in the heyday of aviation as they protected their country. WWII veterans who served on the ground protecting and supporting the men and women in flight are also featured. 

Throughout the weekend, WWII heroes Richard Ortega, Clifford Kantz and Howard Huebner, will share personal stories and recollections of the D-Day invasion and the grueling weeks that followed.

D-Day, Normandy invasion June 6, 1944.

Richard Ortega served with Easy Company, which was portrayed in the 2001 HBO miniseries, Band of Brothers and 1992 book by Stephen Ambrose.

Howard Huebner, a paratrooper, fought with Easy Company after members of his company missed their drop zone by several miles and became separated dangerously close to German barracks. His story is portrayed in the film D-Day Down to Earth – Return of the 507th.

Major Clifford Kantz retired in 1963 after 20 years in the Air Force. He flew 16 combat missions during World War II, the first of which was on D-Day, when he piloted a C-47 to drop paratroopers over Normandy. The significance of the event wasn’t lost on the young pilot, who on D-Day was only 20 years old.

Additional topics for the  “Legends & Legacies Symposium Series”; “The Pacific War: Power and Pursuit,” June 10-11; and “The Great Escape: Heroes Underground,” Oct. 14-15.

General admission is required to attend symposiums. However, during the month of May, Fantasy of Flight will give free admistion ot active duty military with proper identification. For details, visit the theme park’s website: http://www.fantasyofflight.com/.

Tuskegee Airmen Mark Mission to Berlin Anniversary

TUSKEGEE, Ala. -- Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Mac Ross of Dayton, Ohio, as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets; flight line at U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school in 1941. Partial three-quarter left front view from low angle of Vultee BT-13 trainer at left. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On March 24, 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen 332nd flew a mission over Berlin shooting down three German jet aircraft and damaging two others. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African Americans to be trained as WWII military pilots. They received a Presidential Unit Citation for that Berlin mission.

The original Tuskegee Airmen included nearly 1,000 trained pilots and 15,000 ground personnel. Roughly 50 pilots and 200 ground crew are alive today.

Col. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., as commander of the 332nd FG in Italy, with his P-47. (U.S. Air Force photo)

On March 24, 2011, Thursday, Tuskegee Airmen Hiram Mann of Titusville and Leo Gray of Ft. Lauderdale along with other black military pilots will appear at Fantasy of Flight to mark the 66th Anniversary of the 332nd Red Tail Pilots Mission to Berlin.

In addition, several students will receive cash awards and trophies for winning an essay contest about the historic aviators. The essays focused on the virtues such as leadership, advocacy and determination that led to the success of the first African American WWII pilots and crew.

But, perhaps the best prize of all is that the students will get to meet two of their “heroes” in person, Mann and Gray. The essay winners are:

High School:

  • 1st place – Jimmy Liason, Lake Wales Sr. igh, Lake Wales, FL
  • 2nd – David Wilhite, Summerlin Avenue X, Winter Haven, FL

Middle School:

  • 1st place – Dylan Skroskznik, Stewart Middle Magnet, Tampa, FL
  • 2nd- Altorian Salary, Stewart Middle Magnet, Tampa, FL
  • 3rd – Christopher P. Clark, Calvery School, Lutz, FL

Elementary  School:

  • 1st place – Madison Autry, St. Luke’s Lutheran School, Chuluota, FL

Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group, Tuskegee Airmen, the elite, all-African American unit, pose at Ramitelli, Italy: (from left to right) Lt. Dempsey Morgan, Lt. Carroll Woods, Lt. Robert Nelson Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner, and Lt. Clarence Lester.

The awards ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. at the Officer’s Club. Fantasy of Flight has a permanent multi-media Tuskegee Airmen exhibit which also includes previously recorded interviews with several of the pioneering airmen. It will serve as a backdrop for essay awards ceremony. The attraction and museum is located, 1400 Broadway Blvd. S.E., Polk City, off I-4 at Exit 44 between Orlando and Tampa.

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