The “Spirit of Tuskegee” landed safely at Andrews Air Force Base, MD on August 2, 2011 after a month long, cross-country journey from Beale Air Force Base, CA.
Since then the plane has been taken to the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center where it will be restored closer to its original 1944 construction by Smithsonian collections specialists. The plane will go on exhibition at the Udvar-Hazy Center in 2012 as part of its World War II section and on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture when the museum opens in 2015.
Today we held an Open House at the local airport for the residents in the Lake City and Red Wing, Minnesota community. It was a beautiful flight down the river to the airport. In our years of having the Stearman flying, we have flown over some gorgeous scenery, but our favorite place to fly is still over the lush green fields and winding rivers in Minnesota. Matt and I stopped into the Stanton Municipal Airport for an ice cream cone and an old fashioned soda along the way.
Stanton Airfield was built in WWII for flight training and is a really small, quaint, airport with two grass runways. The Stearman looked at home on the soft green grass and Matt’s landing was so great I didn’t even realize we had touched down.
When we arrived in Red Wing, we had a surprise welcoming committee. Betty and Earle Duggan (my wonderful pseudo-grandparents), family friend Mark Lutjen, and my mom Nola Nilsson were all jumping up and down when we landed. We arrived in Red Wing an hour before the Open House was scheduled to start so we had time to give a few quick rides. Matt took both Mark and Earle up for flights over the Mississippi River. When they came back, Mark had a huge grin on his face and said that his flight was “the thrill of a lifetime.” Being able to share the history of the plane and create a memorable experience in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen is so much fun for Matt and me.
That evening, Matt gave a presentation to the local Civil Air Patrol (CAP) unit. He spoke about his positive experiences in the CAP as a young cadet, careers in the U.S. Air Force, and of course the Tuskegee Airmen.
To end the day, Matt and I went for an evening/sunset flight in the Stearman for a photo shoot with aviation photographer Ray Pittman. Ray was in a Cessna and we flew formation on his wing. He was able to capture some fantastic pictures of Matt and I over my hometown of Lake City and beautiful Lake Pepin.
Today is the first day I haven’t been out to the plane since we left California 12 days ago. It wasn’t a quiet day though. Tina flew into Minnesota on the Red Eye and arrived at 6am. We came back to my parents’ place where the phone calls and emails started to roll in. The good thing is we were able to coordinate many of the details for the rest of the trip to D.C.
Today was the first time since being in Minnesota that we were actually able to spend a few minutes to relax. Because of this I began to think about the upcoming weeks and turning the plane over to the Smithsonian. I am running on an emotional high with the excitement of the events we have ahead. On Aug 5th it will all be over, and I wonder how it will feel to fly the plane one last time. For now I am excited to put the plane on display at Oshkosh, and then down to Tuskegee, Alabama where the plane flew over 65 years ago. It will be fun to see some of my old friends at the Tuskegee Airmen National Convention the week leading up to the delivery date. For now I will concentrate on those events and forget about the plane’s last flight.
-Capt Matthew Quy