Expressions of excitement and astonishment were painted on the faces of onlookers, as a relic from World War II flew down the flightline at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Oct. 4.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. George E. Hardy, one of the 18 remaining Tuskegee Airmen, was aboard the aircraft.
The Tuskegee Airmen, who were referred to as "Red Tails" due to their brightly painted aircraft tails, were an all-black fighter group during WWII and consisted of more than 900 pilots. Hardy, among 354 others, were sent overseas to conduct bomber escort missions.
"The greatest thing about this is that there's a Red Tail flying in England," Hardy said. "It means so much to us that there's a Red Tail still around."
A bomber was never lost to enemy fire during their escort missions. However, the group lost 66 Tuskegee Airmen during the war.
Flying the restored P-51D Mustang, nicknamed "Tall in the Saddle", was Peter Teichman, Hangar 11 Collection pilot. Teichman tracked down Hardy through history groups after acquiring the retiree's original P-51.
"Colonel George Hardy is a real war hero, the real deal," Teichman said. "I never thought I would get to meet the colonel or to take him flying. He's a very remarkable man, and men like him need to be remembered."
Hardy completed 21 sorties in his P-51 during WWII. He was only 19, and he didn't even have a driver's license.
"So many great pilots, and I was flying with them," Hardy said. "You couldn't beat that – I was on top of the world. We demonstrated that we could fly like anyone else. "
Hardy, 71 years later, reunited with his plane, completed one last flight to RAF Lakenheath to share his story with the Liberty Airmen who awaited his arrival.
"This is a huge honor for us here at the 48th Fighter Wing," said Col. Evan Pettus, 48th Fighter Wing commander. "The Tuskegee Airmen have a very rich history and an incredibly important place in the culture and heritage of the United States and the United States Air Force. To see him here on RAF Lakenheath in his aircraft is very, very special for us."
Following the heroics of the famed Red Tails during WWII, the U.S. Air Force was established and became the first service to integrate racially. Many attribute this milestone in U.S. history to the accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen and those who served with them.