Tuscaloosa air show brings back memories for Tuskegee Airmen

Carter, 94, sat in a wheelchair on a runway of the Tuscaloosa Regional Airport, his eyes squinting against the sun to examine the sleek silver body of a P-51 Mustang that moments ago was streaking through the air as part of the 2012 Tuscaloosa Regional Air Show.

Below the deep hum of planes careening through the sky, Carter shook his head, speaking only to himself. Was it really 70 years ago? Seventy years since he cut through the clouds in one of these stunning aircrafts, since he escorted bombers in the face of German and Italian forces in World War II as one of the original members of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Carter is a heavily decorated veteran, flying in 77 combat sorties as a member of the famous 99th Pursuit Squadron.

Because of his distinguished record, Carter was asked by executive producer George Lucas to fly to Hollywood in 2009 to advise Lucas’ team in the making of the film “Red Tails,” which was released this year.

As he looked on at the P-51 in front of him Saturday, its pilot walked over and kneeled down beside him eager to hear how the planes handled in combat.

“It was very reliable,” Carter replied before leaning in to share details only someone who has flown these aircraft can hope to understand.

Shortly thereafter, Carter was asked what he thought of jumping back in the cockpit for old times’ sake.

“Kick the tires, start the fire and let’s go, boy,” Carter said with a smile.

The theme of this year’s air show, Tuscaloosa’s third in the last four years, is “Honoring Our Heroes.” Carter and Chief Master Sgt. Walter Richardson, a mechanic for the World War II era Tuskegee Airmen, were among the honored guests and were approached to be thanked by attendees throughout the day.

Richardson, 94, who received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2010, said the air show brought back memories of growing up in Pensacola.

“You could watch just about anyone flying over Pensacola as they trained,” he said.

When asked what he thought of the pilots and their performances Saturday, Richardson reminded everyone who does the real work behind those flights.

“I loved my pilots, but the pilots are just the actors,” Richardson said with a smile. “The real performers are the mechanics.”

An estimated 75,000 people attended this year’s show, headlined by the U.S. Navy Blue Angels flight demonstration team. But as Carter and Richardson can attest to, the show contained much more, including the P-51 Mustangs, demonstrations by the U.S. Army Golden Knights parachute team and several aerobatics demonstrations.

One demonstration performed by the Firebirds, wowed the audience as the two small planes flew in tandem weaving around one another, plunging to the earth below before pulling up 30 feet or so above the ground and streaking by one another just a foot or so apart.

Dan Blakley and his wife, Christine, brought their daughters Madelyn, 10, and Dani,5, and their sons John Daniel, 2, and Jacob, 18, to the show.

“We came out the last year it was here, I guess two years ago now, and had a great time,” Dan Blakely said. “The Blue Angels are the headline, but there’s a lot of other stuff to do as well.

“It’s just a great event.”

Blakley said his family enjoyed the up-close view of the aircraft on static display as well as the Golden Knights’ demonstration.

Osiris and Danielle Molina brought their family out for their first air show. Two-year-old Osi rode on his dad’s shoulders while 2-month-old Olivia rode in the shade of a stroller.

“We live in Northport and we really enjoy it and we had heard about the air show the last time it was in town and wanted to make sure and come out this year,” Osiris said.

“We heard the Blue Angels practicing over our house the other day so that really got (Osi) interested.”

Osiris Molina said he and his son had really enjoyed seeing the Army helicopters up close.

“You usually only see those in documentaries,” he said.

“I think it’s great to see some of the planes so close,” Danielle Molina added. “It’s not very often that you get to do something like that.”

Article source: http://www.tuscaloosanews.com/article/20120331/NEWS/120339949

Short URL: http://militaryfeed.com/?p=20149

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