By Jeff Nance, AMA Director of Marketing & Digital Strategy
The largest of number of World War II aircraft ever assembled to fly together since the war ended will take to air Friday, May 8 in the Arsenal of Democracy Victory Capital Flyover. Nearly 70 aircraft including bombers, fighters, trainers and recon aircraft from flying museums across the country will fly over our nation’s capital to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day. The warbirds will be organized in 15 historically sequenced formations representing the war’s major battles from Pearl Harbor to the final air assault on Japan. Piloting the P-51C Mustang Tuskegee Airmen will be AMA member and Delta Airlines Captain Brad Lang.
The Arsenal of Democracy warbirds are based at the Culpeper Regional Airport and Manassas Regional Airport. The warbirds will assemble about 40 minutes before the flyover at a holding point 10 miles west of Leesburg, Virgina where they will begin the flight down the Potomac River toward Washington D.C. As they approach the Lincoln Memorial 12:10 pm (EST), they will turn east and proceed down Independence Avenue. At the completion of the flyover of the WWII Memorial, the warbirds will turn south and begin their flight down the Potomac River and return to their original airports. On Saturday, May 9, 2015, a selection of the warbirds will be featured at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport for a one-day exhibition. The display will be open to the public 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Flying in formation with Brad’s Tuskegee Airmen P-15C will be two P-51D Mustangs: Red Nose and Gunfighter. They will escort the B-24 Liberator Diamond Lil to commemorate the Ploesti Raid officially known as Operation Tidal. The Ploesti Raid targeted the Romanian oil refinery complexes around the town of Ploesti which was a major center for the production of Axis petroleum products being used in the war.
Brad has been flying the Tuskegee Airmen P-15C in air shows and events since 2009, accumulating more than160 hours in the Mustang. He demonstrates the Mustang’s flight capabilities at approximately 10 airshows a year. The P-51C belongs to the Commemorative Air Force – Red Tail Squadron. It’s painted in the distinctive colors representing the four Tuskegee fighter squadrons, including the bright red tail of the Mustangs flown by the first all-African-American fighter pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group known as the Tuskegee Airman. The name was adopted from the city of Tuskegee, Alabama, where the training base was located. The name Tuskegee Airman includes every person military, civilian, black, white, officer, enlisted, men and women who served at any of the bases where the airmen trained or flew between 1941- 1949. “The Tuskegee Airmen Mustang is a flying educational tool to create interest in the history and legacy of the first black military pilots who flew this type of airplane during World War II,” said Brad.
Brad’s connection to the Tuskegee Airmen runs much deeper than flying the namesake mustang. Brad’s father, Donald W. Lang Sr. was a Tuskegee Airman who trained at the Tuskegee Army Airbase after enlisting in September, 1942. The senior Lang took flight instruction from C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, the chief flight instructor of the initial Civilian Pilot Training Program. Brad said, “Dad was assigned to work with the base commander, Noel Parrish, and did not go overseas.” He remained at Tuskegee for his entire military career, leaving the Army in February, 1946 with the rank of Sergeant Major.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first of four squadrons sent to North Africa in April 1943 for combat duty. The transition from training to actual combat wasn’t always smooth, given the racial policies within the military as well as the personal prejudices of many enlisted personnel and line officers. However, the Tuskegee Airmen overcame the obstacles posed by segregation through hard work and commitment to their role as military aviators. After a few months in North Africa, the 99th was ordered to support the Allied campaigns in Italy, and later, Germany. The other three Fighter Squadrons of the 332nd soon joined them. Although the Tuskegee Airmen always flew courageously and well, it was as bomber escorts on missions deep into Germany and its neighbors that they really made a name for themselves. Soon their reputation for staying with the bombers they were assigned to protect spread. It wasn’t long before the white bomber pilots were requesting the Tuskegee-trained “Red Tail Angels” to fly escort for them. (Airmen in Combat, CAF Red Tail Squadron, 2015). The Tuskegee Airmen completed 15,000 sorties in approximately 1,500 missions, destroying more than 260 enemy aircraft, sinking one enemy destroyer, and demolishing numerous enemy installations. To honor their accomplishments, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded numerous high honors, including Distinguished Flying Crosses, Legions of Merit, Silver Stars, Purple Hearts, the Croix de Guerre, and the Red Star of Yugoslavia. A Distinguished Unit Citation was awarded to the 332nd Fighter Group for “outstanding performance and extraordinary heroism” in 1945 after they flew a long escort mission to Berlin and back with no reinforcements. (War Record, CAF Red Tail Squadron, 2015). “Every time I climb into the cockpit and strap myself into in the seat of the Tuskegee Airmen Mustang, I feel a great responsibility and sense of pride of telling the Tuskegee story, especially to young people,” said Brad “It’s important for young people to understand that they are not alone in handling the challenges of life.” The Tuskegee Airmen lived in a time when prejudice and discrimination were pervasive in the USA. The airmen had to learn to rise above adversity and challenge the idea that African Americans were not capable of flying combat aircraft. They met that challenge head on to prove themselves worthy as a Fighter Group. The CAF Red Tail Squadron uses the legacy of their experience to inspire future generations.
“Our RISE ABOVE Traveling Exhibit encourages young people to: Aim a High, Believe in Yourself, Use YourBrain, Never Quit, Be Ready to Go, and Expect to Win. These are six valuable principles that are universal,” said Lang. Brad became interested in flight at a young age. “Mom was a member of the National Audubon Society which is why I started looking at things that fly, in particular birds of prey: hawks, falcons and eagles,” said Lang, who is still a birder. He added, “Dad loved airplanes, so the two interests made sense to me.” Learning to fly models soon followed. “I started trying to fly the Cox PT-19 around 1970. I went through at least 10 of these before I could fly U-Control,” said Brad. One day he stopped by a local flying field near his home in West Orange, New Jersey. He watched in amazement as “Jersey” Jim Martin was practicing with his Banshee. Brad said, “He was flying Pattern at the speed of heat. I wanted to fly precision RC Aerobatics or Pattern since that day. We joined the Central Jersey RC Club, a great club with Chris Christianson, Steve West, Paul and Donnie Abati, and Leon Shulman,” added Brad. Today flying Pattern is still Brad’s favorite. He enjoys flying gliders and scale ducted-fan aircraft. “I really enjoy aircraft with two-stroke 61s, retracts and a pipe,” he said. Brad remembers his dad taking the family to Newark Airport on Sundays to watch the airliners land. “He worked two jobs and his night job was at the USPS so he knew where to observe the aircraft coming in on final. One day I saw a DC-8F coming out of a low overcast. I was fascinated with the idea that there were people flying this jet in bad weather. I asked my Dad what profession does this. He stated airline pilots do that kind of flying,” Brad said. Brad received his full-scale pilot’s license in 1980 and was later hired by Delta Airlines in 1988. Now a Captain for Delta, he flies Boeing 757s and 767s and has 21,000 hours. When Brad isn’t flying the Tuskegee Airmen Mustang, jet airliners, or his model airplanes, he flies his North America T-6 trainer dressed in Marine livery and Reserve orange markings at local air shows. Brad said, “I’m honored to be part of the Arsenal of Democracy flyover to pay tribute to the men and women of World War II.” He added, “The view of our nation’s capital is going to be much different from the cockpit of a P-51 than it is from a 767.”
The flyover will be streamed live on Friday, May 8, beginning at 10:30 a.m.
The link for the live webcast is https://www.usvets.tv/Events/ArsenalofDemocracy2015.aspx.
Aircraft listed have agreed to participate, but due to factors such as weather or mechanical issues, participating aircraft are subject to change without notice.
Arsenal of Democracy is a 501(c)(3) organization established under the sponsorship of the Commemorative Air Force. Tax ID 74-1484491.