Mustang Expo 2000 “Muskegee Airmen & Jay Leno”
Mustang Wings & Wheels Expo
25 June 2000, Santa Monica Airport
by Curt Scott
At the Museum of Flying, Santa Monica Airport. Celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the (North American Aviation) P-51 Mustang… from which the Ford Mustang inherited its name. For the record [and if you’re into historical trivia], it was the British who christened this legendary fighter “Mustang.”*
*The Brits tended to label American-manufactured aircraft with ‘wild west’ and native American appellations: the ubiquitous C47 cargo plane [aka ‘DC3’, aka ‘gooney bird,’ aka ‘SkyTrain‘] was similarly christened ‘Dakota,’ and our Curtiss P40 ‘Warhawk‘ fighter was rechristened ‘Tomahawk.’ They also installed the Rolls-Royce ‘Merlin’ V12 into some of their Tomahawks, rendering it a serious surprise to its adversaries, who were accustomed to its being powered by the lesser-performing GM ‘Allison’ V12.
There were two WWII P-51Ds on display—and one very rare P-51A (early, ground-Attack variant Mustang), over 150 Ford and Shelby Mustangs and one 4000-Series Shelby Cobra. Camee and Christi Edelbrock were there to grace the event with their presence, and to sign autographs.
The Legendary Airmen and The Late Night Host!
It was only three weeks ago that I commenced the Cobra Day 2000 feature article with a photo of Carroll Shelby and Jay Leno together, jointly welcoming the throng of Shelby Enthusiasts to the Lynn Park/Petersen Automotive Museum ‘Cobra Day’ bash.
At the Mustang Wings & Wheels Expo, while I was capturing on film those Tuskegee Airmen (seated and standing above) there seemed to be some commotion in the background of my viewfinder; it was Jay Leno extending his personal appreciation to those WWII flyers. I’ll provide a little more background on these aging aerial legends at this end of this photo coverage.
Due to my quite punishing schedule, my time at the event was limited and my photo coverage, accordingly, is somewhat abbreviated, but I did manage to capture a few of the event’s major highlights…
The Saleen solution, CHP-style: If you recognize this California Highway Patrol pursuit car as a Saleen Mustang, you’re mostly correct; it’s actually a one-of-a-kind Saleen machine, personally owned by a California Highway patrolman, which he permits the department to use for promotional purposes.
The cockpit of that CHP/Saleen.
Above: CSX4089 was on display by its owner, with a dashboard signed by Carroll Shelby, Bob Bondurant, et al.
Peering down on a sampling of the Ford Mustangs and Shelby Mustangs from the Museum’s second level.
above: the Mustang that started it all… this World-Class flyin’ machine [above is a final ‘D-variant’] helped the Allies conclude the war much quicker. The ‘D’ was fitted with a Packard-manufactured Rolls-Royce ‘Merlin’ V12 powerplant, bubble canopy, a variable-speed propellor and a range-extending fuel tank].
The Tuskegee Airmen in this photo include: Lowell Steward (closest to the camera); further down the table in white shirt & tie Samuel Hughes of Los Angeles; William Pitts of Los Angeles; Charles Foreman of Los Angeles, whose brother Walter Foreman was also a fighter pilot during WWII, and Andrew Simon at the far end of the table.
The Tuskegee Airmen
If you’re not acquainted with the history surrounding the renowned “Tuskegee Airmen” of WWII, pull up a chair. Here it is in much-condensed form; historical data provided in large measure by (Tuskegee/retired) Col..William J. Smith:
Amid the rigid pattern of racial prejudice and segregation that still prevailed in the United States during World War.II, an experiment was inaugurated by the Roosevelt administration and the Pentagon to train young African-American men as airmen/officers; 992 of these aviators were trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, and at an isolated training complex and airfield near the college. The first class graduated on 7 March 1942. Those young airmen trainees were up against not just one, but two adversaries: the Axis enemies overseas (mostly the German Luftwaffe), and rampant racial prejudice and denied-opportunities in their own country. Briefly put, they excelled in their training and in their subsequent service roles.
Under the command of (then Colonel and African-American himself) Benjamin O. Davis, 450 “Tuskegee Airmen” black fighter pilots fought in the aerial war over North Africa, Sicily and Europe. They piloted, in succession, the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk, the Bell P-39 AiraCobra, the Republic Aviation P-47 Thunderbolt and the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang fighter aircraft. They flew 15,553 sorties and completed 1,578 missions with the 12th Tactical and 15th U.S. Army Air Force. Think about it: with those P-39s and P-51s on their combat record, these guys were squaring off their own Cobras and Mustangs against The Luftwaffe’s Messerschmitt 109s and Focke-Wulf 190s at a time when the Shelby/Ferrari duel wasn’t yet a twinkle in ol’ Carroll’s eye…
Their German adversaries soon labeled these airmen “die schwarze Vogelmenschen” (the black birdmen) by the Germans who both respected and feared them. White American bomber crews reverently referred to them as “the red tail angels” and the Luftwaffe pilots similarly called them “roten schwanz Teufel” (red tail devils) because of the squadron’s trademark red-painted tail assemblies. The squadron established an unparalleled record for losing not a single bomber to enemy fighters as they provided fighter escort for B17 Fortresses and B24 Liberators on bombing missions over Europe. American pilots often specifically requested ‘red tail escort fighters’, although the American bomber crews had no idea that the ‘red tail’ pilots were African-American, since any and all details of The Tuskegee Airmen was a closely-held secret for most of the war. Of those Tuskegee/Red Tail pilots, 66 were killed in action and another 32 were shot down behind enemy lines and taken as POWs by the Germans. Col. Davis eventually rose to the rank of Lt. General (3 stars)… the nation’s highest-ranking African-American military officer until General Colin Powell.
Here’s a link to Wikipedia’s history of The Tuskegee Airmen: Click Here!
And a link to Wikipedia’s coverage of The Red Tail Squadron: Click Here!
And a link to the trailer for the 2012 LucasFilm flick “Red Tails“: Click Here!
Make it a point to download or rent Red Tails, and invite your friends and family to watch it with you. It’s a thoroughly inspiring moment in American military history (and civil rights history), captured for the ages by LucasFilms.
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