Red Tails! The Men, the Movie, the Models

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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)

Red Tails Poster
■ 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.


Tuskeegee airmen

Six Tuskeegee airmen strode the ramp just after finishing a P-40 gunnery training mission in June 1943. (Photo courtesy of AAF, via Frederick A. Johnsen)
Capt. Ed Gleed
Capt. Ed Gleed, 332nd Fighter Group, 1945. (Photo courtesy of Jack Cook)
In September 1939, America slowly prepared for war and that month, the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama applied to the Civil Aeronautics Administration to participate in the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPT). Thereby, black males tentatively became eligible for government flight training—a revolutionary development in American aviation. In early 1940, CAA representatives arrived to supervise admissions tests and the Institute’s high academic standards were validated when every applicant passed the CPT entry test, reportedly an unmatched record in the south.
That fall, the budding Tuskegee Airmen were heartened when President Franklin Roosevelt confirmed that Negroes would be trained as Army pilots. Tuskegee’s first preflight class convened in July 1941: 12 cadets under Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Pointer like his father, while white officers performed administrative functions. Of the original dozen cadets, five completed the course and proceeded to flight training. —Barrett Tillman
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

 Tuskegee aviator Col. Paul Green
The start of many, Norton Airbase’s former commander and Tuskegee aviator Col. Paul Green puts the first signature on the wing.
Tuskegee Aviators
This is the L.A. Chapter of the Tuskegee Aviators who signed Marty’s P-51D.
 P-51D Mustang
Here is a nice side shot of Marty’s P-51D Mustang.
I was fortunate to meet up with fellow modeler Marty Nelson who is a member of one of my flying clubs, the Pomona Valley Model Airplane Club. We were introduced because I wanted to see if anyone else had converted an ARF P-51 over to a Red Tail version. Once I met up with Marty, I found that he had much more than just a red-tailed P-51 conversion. Marty started his Hangar 9 P-51 1.50 size Mustang in June 2007 and after four weeks, he was finished. His work included a Saito 220 engine up front and JR radio for guidance. He added additional scale details with a cool-looking exhaust system and one very fine-looking Dynamic Balsa cockpit that was maxed out. But the truly unique thing on this Mustang was on top of the wing, which was inscribed with the signatures of 14 Tuskegee Airmen and women. Marty started this collection of signatures with the former base commander Col. Paul Green of the old Norton Airbase located in San Bernardino, CA, and this is now the location of the RC flying field at which Marty flies. After getting Paul’s signature, Marty was able to attend a meeting of the LA chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen, where he acquired the other 13 signatures on the wing of this great plane. —John Reid
If you would like to check out my interview with Marty and see some closeup videos of this unique P-51, click here


Updated: July 16, 2015 — 4:36 PM


  1. Nice article John, I was hoping you could post the Video. Its missing the link.

  2. I really enjoyed reading this interview and being introduced to the magazine and the man. Gorgeous, gorgeous photos.

  3. Thank you for the article. Can’t stop thanking the Lord for the Tuskegee Airmen. I never get tired of reading about the aviators. I’m wondering where I can get a model P-51D for a nephew of mine that’s really into the Tuskegee Airmen. Pictures are great and so was the movie. Can’t wait for the sequel.

  4. I met and knew Roscoe Brown (downed an Me-262) and Lee Archer. Brother Archer apparently had a claim for a 5th but USAAF and Col. Davis’ stricter rules regarding multiple observation and confirmation kept him from the fifth and most important kill. By the way, he wasn’t bitter about it at all. More like that’s the way it goes…

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