F-16 Unit Salutes Tuskegee Airmen

Article by Eric Hehs
Photos by Lans Stout

From Code One Magazine, 4th Quarter 2007

Gray went red last fall on the tail of one F-16 at the 187th wing, the Alabama Air National Guard unit at Dannelly Field in Montgomery. Aviation buffs will recognize the paint scheme as reminiscent of the aircraft flown by the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. The splash of color was added to an F16 of the newly renamed 100th fighter squadron.

“I was going to say it’s a red letter day for Alabama, but it’s not,” said Governor Bob Riley at the official renaming ceremony. “It’s a red tail day.” Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, Montgomery Mayor Bobby Bright, and Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley attended the ceremony, as well as other Air Force and local officials.

The 160th Fighter Squadron was renamed the 100th in September in honor of the 100th Pursuit Squadron, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen units. The 100th was formed in February 1942 as the second squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, which was the only US fighter group in which all pilots, ground crews, and support personnel were African-Americans. The pilots and crews were trained at Tuskegee, Alabama, about forty miles east of Montgomery.

The 332nd FG, which consisted of the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was part of the 15th Air Force based at Ramitelli, Italy, during the war. The units initially flew P-40 Warhawks, but later transitioned to the P-51 Mustang. The empennage of the Mustangs sported the distinguishing red paint scheme.

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited with 111 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air and 150 destroyed on the ground. They were also credited with using only machine-gun fire to sink an enemy destroyer. On 24 March 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen were awarded a Distinguished Unit Citation for operations over Germany.

Walter Palmer, a Tuskegee combat pilot who flew the most combat missions of any African-American pilot during World War II, was a special guest at the renaming ceremony. “I am honored to have the squadron in Montgomery,” said Palmer, who is credited with one aerial victory, a German Bf-109. The Tuskegee veteran posed with Lt. Richard Peace in front of a red-tailed P-51 that was used as a backdrop at the event. Peace, also an African-American, is an F-16 pilot serving with the Montgomery unit.

Redesignating the Alabama squadron comes at the same time the unit is improving combat readiness and efficiency by taking on additional personnel and resources from active duty Air Force units. Montgomery’s Air National Guard unit will receive additional F-16s to add to the eighteen it currently operates, along with about 150 more people, including active duty Air Force personnel. The move is part of the Air Force’s plan for total force integration, which allows integrating the 700,000 members of the Active, Reserve, and Guard components for a smaller, more efficient force.

“The change means that this wing could take an Aerospace Expeditionary Force rotation as a wing itself rather than combining with other wings as we do now,” said Lt. Gen. Craig McKinley, director of the Air National Guard.

Lans Stout is a freelance photographer based in Florida.