Tuskegee Airmen

  • Published
  • By Angela Woolen
  • Robins Public Affairs
This is the first in a recurring series featuring exhibits, aviation and other interesting items at the Museum of Aviation. The displays can be seen during a lunch break or after work and showcase the history of aviation. The Museum of Aviation tries to capture the Air Force legacy by incorporating each  airplane's story into the display.

To celebrate Black History Month, the first installment of the series is the Tuskegee Airman Exhibit.

The exhibit opened in 1997 in Hangar One. It moved to the Scott Hangar in 2011 "as part of an effort to consolidate all World War II exhibits into a single venue," according to a museum press release.

"This was a way to pay tribute to the Tuskegee story. It's not just an African American story, it is an American story," said museum curator Mike Rowland.

The story takes visitors to a re-creation of the barracks of the Tuskegee Airmen. Before entering the building, a photograph of former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt riding with Charles "Chief" Anderson in a training airplane is displayed on the wall. Roosevelt was instrumental in providing support for the African American program.

"They weren't just fighting against the Germans [in World War II], they were also fighting against racism," said Rowland. "They wanted to prove they could do it."

Memorabilia such as uniforms and model aircraft are housed in glass cases. Some were donated by Tuskegee airmen while others are historically accurate to the time.

A Link Trainer, an early form of a flight simulator, is housed in the barracks. The cockpit was hooked up to a cable which drew coordinates from the pilot's maneuvers in the fake cockpit.

Also in the barracks is a video from 1944 narrated by former President Ronald Reagan.

Outside the barracks building is a wallpaper mural, produced using computer software. The men in the photograph were Robins employees dressed in historical costumes to create the scene.

A maintenance depot is in the corner of the exhibit, a nod to Robins which is itself, a maintenance depot.

In the center of the exhibit stands a BT-13 airplane with its blue and yellow colors. A volunteer restored the cockpit and installed lights to allow visitors to get a peek inside the basic training plane. 

The museum opened to the public on Nov. 9, 1984. There were about 20 aircraft on display in an open field and another 20 were in various stages of restoration. 

The Heritage Building - the museum's first building - housed exhibits as well as offices, storage and a gift shop. The opening was the culmination of years of planning that began in the late 1970s.

Since then, the museum has grown to become the second largest in the Air Force and the fourth most visited museum in the Department of Defense. Since opening, nearly 13 million people have visited.

The Museum of Aviation is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The museum is closed on Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Admission is free. For more information, call(478) 926-6870.