The Air Force Names Its New Jet After the Tuskegee Airmen

Kyle Mizokami
Photo credit: Kevin Flynn/Boeing

From Popular Mechanics

The U.S. Air Force officially designated the service’s new jet trainer the "T-7A Red Hawk." The name celebrates the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group of World War II. Manned by African American pilots in a segregated U.S. military, the 332nd flew fighter planes with a distinctive red painted tail for identification purposes.

The jet is also named in honor of the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk fighter, flown by the African American 99th Fighter Squadron. The jet will replace the T-38 Talon in Air Force service.

Photo credit: Afro Newspaper/Gado - Getty Images

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 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 it replaces. 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.”

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The jet commemorates the famous “Tuskegee Airmen,” African American men who in 1940 came from across the country to participate in aircrew, maintainer, and air traffic control training at Tuskegee Army Airfield, Alabama. At the time, the U.S. military was a segregated organization, and Tuskegee graduates went on to form four all-black fighter squadrons: the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd fighter squadrons under the 332nd Fighter Group. The Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their jets red for identification purposes, earning them the nickname “Red Tails.”

The T-7A also commemorates the P-40 Warhawk, one of the most famous fighter planes of World War II. The P-40 was flown not only by the 99th Fighter Squadron, but also by the All Volunteer Group, or “Flying Tigers” of World War II. More than 13,000 P-40s were built with planes serving in almost all of the Allied air forces in the early years of the war, including the Soviet Air Force, Royal Canadian Air Force, and Royal Air Force. The P-40 was obsolete by 1943, eventually replaced by newer fighters such as the P-51 Mustang.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. D. Myles Cullen

Joining the acting secretary on stage for the naming event was Colonel Charles McGee, one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airmen. McGee flew more than 400 combat missions in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, earning him two Legions of Merit, three Distinguished Flying Crosses, the Bronze Star, and 25 Air Medals. McGee is a member of the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

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