The Tuskegee Airmen “The Red Tails”

The Tuskegee Airmen, also known as “The Red Tails,” because of the red paint jobs on some of their aircraft, flew more different kinds of fighter planes in combat than any other American unit in World War Two.  In addition to taking on appallingly hazardous ground attack missions, as time went on, their role was later expanded to that of bomber escorts, guarding American heavies in their assaults upon the German Reich.

Here are some examples of the kinds of fighter planes flown by the Tuskegee Airmen in combat.

This version of the Curtis  P-40, shown above, the  P-40L,  was equipped with a Packard Merlin engine, instead of the Allison engines used in some other P-40 models , like the P-40’s  that they had been using in their advanced training, up in Michigan.  The Tuskegee Airmen flew these desert camouflaged,  Merlin-powered planes against the Axis Powers in North Africa.

The Tuskegee Airmen also flew this unusual plane, the Bell P-39Q Air Cobra, which had its engine mounted behind the cockpit, and which had a 37 mm cannon mounted in front, firing through the middle of the red spinner.  Note that the cockpit doors opened like car doors, on both sides of the cockpit. That may sound familiar and convenient, but how would you like to have to try to bail-out of one of these planes, with some 300 mph wind pressure blowing-against the door? Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like someone might have at least considered the difference between how the doors worked on the ground, and how they might, or might not work, at-speed, in the AIR, since this thing was an AIRPLANE! 

History remembers the Tuskegee Airmen as “The Redtails,” and this famous, identifying paint scheme was first seen on another one of the many fighters that the unit flew, the rugged P-47 Thunderbolt, like the one shown below.

It’s pretty ironic: the U.S. Army Air Corps had initially ordered that none of the Tuskegee Airmen should be allowed to paint their personal markings onto any of their aircraft, (like the “nose art” common to so many other units’ World War Two aircraft), out of some fear that the Nazis would be able to spot them, by their nose art, and single them out for “special treatment.”  Real World experience would quickly prove that those dreaded Nazi airmen would have been better off, trying to dole-out any of their “special treatment” to somebody else, not these men.

After flying P-40 L’s and P-3Q’s, the Tuskegee Airmen were next issued with the Republic P-47D Thunderbolt, the first plane on which the classic “Red Tail” paint job was applied. The use of the P-47 by the Tuskegee Airmen presented an upgrade in speed, firepower, and bomb load, and one of their number singlehandedly sank a Nazi destroyer, attacking it in one of these monster Thunderbolts.

The P-47 Thunderbolt served the Tuskegee Airmen well, but when the P-51 Mustangs were made available, this sleek, new figther was a welcome addition to their arsenal.

The poster above shows the P-51C Mustang “Topper III,” another classic Red Tail flown by Capt. Ed Toppins of the 99th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group.  The P-51C was like the P-51B, only the “C” was built at North American’s newer plant in Grand Prairie, Texas, just west of Dallas, while the “B” model was built at North American’s Inglewood plant, at Mines Field, in Southwestern Los Angeles County, in the same vicinity which would one day become LAX.

As welcome as the P-51B’s and C’s were, the next model of the Mustang to come along was the ultimate Red Tail, the P-51D, like this one, the famous “Duchess Arlene,” named after a beautiful girl from Davenport, Iowa.  This plane’s pilot, Lt. Robert Williams, was a veteran of 50 missions with 100th Fighter Squadron.

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