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National Museum of the USAF welcomes PT-17 to its collection

  • Published
  • By Lisa M. Riley

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force welcomed the arrival of a PT-17 to its collection following a ceremonial transfer at Joint Base Andrews that coincided with the 75th anniversary of the integration of the armed forces. The aircraft is only one of two existing PT-17s that were used as Tuskegee Airmen trainers during WWII.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black pilots to fly in the U.S. military. In March 1941 the U.S. Army Air Corps announced the formation of the first-ever black combat unit, the 99th Pursuit (later Fighter) Squadron, with the pilots training on Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama. Before closing in 1946, nearly 1,000 Tuskegee Airmen received their primary flight training at Moton Field.

This aircraft was acquired through an aircraft exchange with the Collings Foundation’s American Heritage Museum in Hudson, Massachusetts. Transferring it to the National Museum of the USAF was bittersweet said Rob Collings, the executive director of The Collings Foundation.

“It is a little emotional to leave it behind,” said Collings. “The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force is such spectacular museum, and this aircraft deserves to be on the national stage. Going through the museum and seeing the crowds that are here, I hope this aircraft will inspire everybody who comes through. It’s in the right location. It needs to be here.”

Among those who flew this aircraft were instructor James J. Hyett and then-cadet Kermit G. Bailer. Hyett was a notable flight instructor who trained both fighter and bomber pilots. Following his service, Bailer went on to become a civil rights activist, lawyer and public servant in state and national government.

“This aircraft is a valuable piece of our American aviation and military history,” said David Tillotson III, the director of the National Museum of the United States Air Force. “Adding this to our collection gives us the ability to tell the broader story of the impact and bravery that that Tuskegee Airmen had during World War II, and the precedent they set for future generations.”

The PT-17 will be placed in the museum’s WWII Gallery in the spring of 2024.