For five years Lonnie G. Bunch, the historian and founding director of the future National Museum of African American History and Culture, has been casting a wide net to build a collection for the museum.
And now Bunch is preparing to accept what may be the largest of the artifacts that will help tell the story of African American achievement and heroes. The Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary pilots of World War II, have promised a plane, a PT-13, to the museum.
Even after their service to the country was over, the pilots kept in touch, out of friendship and the determination to have the public remember their story. During their 40th annual convention this summer, being held at National Harbor, they will give the aircraft to the Smithsonian.
At some point during the August 3-7 meeting, the vintage plane is expected to be flown over the Potomac.
The Tuskegee story has been part of several exhibitions at the Smithsonian, including ones at the National Air and Space Museum. The men were the first African Americans to be trained as military pilots. They were nicknamed the “Red Tails” because they painted the tails of their planes red. They went right into the heat of World War II. By most accounts, they flew over 15,000 sorties and destroyed more than 490 enemy aircraft and 45 trains.
Those exploits have been immortalized in film. Here’s a clip from the 1995 HBO film about the airmen.