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A Real Red Tail - From Mustangs to Miami

Recently, the U.S. Air Force officially designated the service’s new jet trainer the "T-7A Red Hawk." The name pays tribute to the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group of World War II better known as the Tuskegee Airmen, or "Red Tails". The pilots of the 332nd flew fighter planes with a distinctively painted red tail for identification purposes. The T-7A was named at a special event held at the Air, Space and Cyber conference.

Acting Secretary of the Air Force Matthew Donovan, along with recently legendary Tuskegee Airman and recently promoted, General Charles McGhee, told the audience that the trainer, set to enter service in 2023, will better train future fighter pilots for flying fifth-generation fighters such as the F-22 and F-35 than the 1960s-era T-38 Talon that it will replace. The T-7A will fly with red painted tails. The T-7A will be the staple of a new generation of aircraft,” Donovan said. “The Red Hawk offers advanced capabilities for training tomorrow’s pilots on data links, simulated radar, smart weapons, defensive management systems, as well as synthetic training capabilities.”

This honor comes on the tail of the former Colonel McGhee being promoted to Brigadier General. The now General McGhee flew more than 400 combat missions during WWII, the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He is also the recipient of two Legions of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, The Bronze Star, and 25 Air Medals.

On December 7, 2019 General McGhee celebrated his 100th birthday by commanding the controls of a Cirrus Vision Jet along with demo pilot Boni Caldeira. Gen McGhee taxied out and took off from the Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland, and while in flight, he maintained situational awareness throughout the entire fight, reaching a maximum altitude of 16,000 feet. As a tribute to this momentous occasion, Andrew McKenna flew alongside Gen McGhee in a P-51 Mustang upon takeoff from the AOPA National Aviation Community Center. According to AOPA Associate editor David Tulis, who flew back seat to photograph the event, "the landing was like butter". His flight pattern allowed him to fly over Dover Air Force Base. Upon his arrival, he was greeted by more than 100 USAF personnel.

Upon completion of his flight, he was treated to a stellar luncheon attended by a host of military and civilian aviation dignitaries, including the CEO of General Aviation Manufacturers Association, Mr. Pete Bunce, Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan.

General McGhee earned his pilot's wings on June 30, 1943 having completed the program at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. He was a sophomore at the University of Illinois when he was drafted to serve in WWII. Thirty years later, he retired as a Colonel in 1972. His career saw him serve in three different wars. On December 20th, Colonel McGhee became Brigadier General upon President Trump signing the H.R. 2500 National Defense Authorization Act of 2020. Gen McGhee is now one of only three Tuskegee Airmen to hold the rank of General. Previously, Generals Benjamin Oliver Davis and Daniel "Chappie" James were the only two.

The impressive military resume of Gen McGhee reads like the foundation of a Hollywood biopic. To write the story that McGhee was a part of a group of men who were overcame obstacles that held that becuase of their race, they were of an inferior breed incapable of flying aircraft, is a small element of a much greater story. It was on August 23, 1944, while escorting B-17s over Czechoslovakia, a then Lieutenant McGhee engaged a formation of Luftwaffe fighters and shot down his first enemy fighter- a Focke Wulf 190. Near the end of WWII in the European Theater, he had accumulated 137 missions. On December 1, 1944, he reported back to Moton Field at Tuskegee to become an instructor on the North American B–25 Mitchell bombers that another unit of the Tuskegee Airmen were working up to deploy to the Pacific Theater. World War II in the Pacific ended before they could be deployed. The last B-25 bomber flown by him is on display at the Birmingham Southern Museum of Flight in Alabama.

It has only been since the past 25 years that the exploits and accomplishments of the Red Tails been highlighted, in both print and motion pictures, beginning with the 1994 HBO film, The Tuskegee Airmen and 2011's "Red Tails". Despite the blatant predjudices that they encountered, their story, which encompasses many different narratives, has inspired several generations of all races. Under the most intense scrutiny, these men performed to the perfected letter of professionalism and in the process, created a legacy that truly personifies what former President Reagan said, "the Greatest Generation".

General McGhee's personal story shows that he truly has lived his life to the fullest. To have seen the US Air Force grow from the US Army Air Corps to the world's premier air force, having a role in it all shows him to be a living legend. Just in time for Black History Month 2020, before tens of thousands in attendance as well as millions more watching around the world, General McGhee was joined with a few other WWII veterans for the ceremonious Super Bowl 54 coin toss. The Kansas City Chiefs won the coin toss, calling tails and choosing to receive. The Chiefs won the Super Bowl 31 - 20 over the San Francisco 49ers.

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