Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, has a long wish list of artifacts he wants for the future museum.
On the top of his list has been something directly connected to the Tuskegee Airmén that would expanded the story of the World War II heroes.
On Tuesday “The Spirit of Tuskegee” arrived. The museum received a PT-13 Stearman, an open cockpit biplane that was used by the airmen during training at Moton Field. “I knew it was terribly important to tell this story but I didn’t want to do it the same way they do at the National Air and Space Museum. They have done it well,” said Bunch.
With the detective work of Dik Daso, curator of modern military history at Air and Space, an unique plane was located. Matt Quy, a U.S. Air Force Captain, owned a Stearman that was linked directly to Moton Field and the airmen. The plane was decommissioned in 1946. It was later used as a crop duster and Quy purchased it at public auction.
Bunch described the exchange as a gift purchase with Quy “receiving support” for his restoration work.
This week many of the remaining Tuskegee Airmen are meeting at National Harbor. The story of nearly 1,000 black pilots remains important, said Bunch, for many reasons. “So much of their success as airmen helped to pave the way for the integration of the military and the integration of a larger America,” said Bunch. “It also demonstrated the power of education and the dedication of these young men fighting for their country. Also many people doubted that black people could fly. So much of what they accomplished put that notion to rest.”
When the plane is ready for display, it will be located at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles International Airport.