THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN: The Red Tails of WW II
Hollywood has a way of rediscovering important historical events, wrapping them up and presenting them in a way that educates the general movie-going public that no amount of history classes ever could. Though few non-modeling folk know the real story, if you simply ask any RC warbird guy, Mustang lover or modeling aviation history buff about the Tuskegee Airmen, you’re bound to get all the information you ever wanted including aircraft tail numbers and pilot scores. So with the much-anticipated release of the new Lucasfilm’s movie Red Tails, a whole new generation of soon-to-be aviation buffs are going to get a blockbuster dose of this well-known and inspiring WW II story.
On the silver screen
Scheduled for a January 20, 2012 release, Red Tails is an action drama film directed by Anthony Hemingway, from a screenplay by John Ridley and Aaron McGruder. The movie’s screenplay was inspired by true events and George Lucas served as the executive producer for the project. Based on the exploits of the famous Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, this motion picture promises to be one of the most exciting films aimed specifically at aviation enthusiasts and history buffs.George Lucas started brainstorming about the film back in 1988 and Thomas Carter was his original pick for director. Several writers were involved with the project until in 2007 John Ridley came to the scene and wrote the final screenplay. Though Samuel L. Jackson was an early candidate to direct and star in the film, Anthony Hemingway was chosen to direct in 2008. To keep the film as authentic as possible, Lucasfilm invited some of the surviving Tuskegee Airmen to the company’s Skywalker Ranch for interviews about their World War II experiences. Some of the surviving airmen also provided their original pilot mission logbooks. Production of the film began in March 2009 in locations such as England, Italy, Croatia and the Czech Republic. While shooting in the Czech Republic, the actors took part in a “boot camp” so they could actually live in similar conditions as the actual Tuskegee AirmenGeorge Lucas took over direction of the final reshoots in March 2010.
A teaser “frame shot” from the upcoming movie. (Photo courtesy of Lucasfilm)
■ This film is George Lucas’ first writing credit since Radioland Murders that is not associated with Star Wars or Indiana Jones.
■ Cuba Gooding Jr. is not new to the film’s subject. He has previously been in the 1995 movie The Tuskegee Airmen.
■ This is Terrence Howard’s second performance as a Tuskegee Airman; his first was in the 2002 movie, Hart’s War.
Since the 1970s, several widely publicized claims have been made for the Tuskegee Airmen. Here are the legends and the facts:
- LEGEND: The Red Tails never lost a bomber under their escort.
- FACT: In early 2011, the Tuskegee Airmen revoked their perfect escort claim. Around 2005, Air Force historians produced 1944–1945 mission reports showing that 25 bombers under Red Tail escort were shot down by enemy aircraft. However, that figure likely is better than most other 15th Air Force fighter groups.
- LEGEND: The 332nd shot down the first German jet and/or established a record number of kills against jets.
- FACT: The group claimed three Me 262s on one mission in March 1945 whereas the first jet kill went to the 8th Air Force in November 1944. The 15th Air Force’s 31st Fighter Group was credited with eight Me 262s, and the Eighth’s 357th Fighter Group claimed 17.
- LEGEND: The Red Tails produced the only black fighter ace.
- FACT: The late Col. Lee Archer, the reputed ace, was credited with four enemy planes destroyed without a fifth claim for a probable or damaged. He was an honorary member of the American Fighter Aces Association.
- LEGEND: Tuskegee Airmen sank a German destroyer by gunfire alone.
- FACT: There were no German destroyers in the Mediterranean because there was no mission for them. The vessel driven ashore by 332nd P-47s in June 1944 was a large WW I Italian torpedo boat confiscated by the Germans. In fairness, however, Army pilots were not trained in ship recognition. —Barrett Tillman
If you would like to check out my interview with Marty and see some closeup videos of this unique P-51, click here.