The Spirit of Tuskegee lives

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Aileen Carter
  • Nellis Public Affairs
Capt. Matthew Quy was a B-52 Stratofortress pilot assigned to Barksdale Air Force Base, La., when he purchased a damaged Boeing Stearman PT-13 plane, which came with a surprise. 

A childhood dream to own, the Stearman turned out to be a trainer aircraft for Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. 

This discovery of the red-tailed aircraft's historical past came after the purchase, when an inquiry was made by him to trace the airplane's lineage through the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell AFB, Ala., he said. 

"It had history of training the Tuskegee Airmen, and we decided to dedicate the airplane to the Tuskegee Airmen and try to use it in a way to teach people about the history," Captain Quy said. "The impact they had was not only on aviation history but also civil rights. They had such a good reputation in war that the bomber crews kept requesting these guys to escort them." 

"The Air Force has certified it as one of the original airplanes that was used to train the Tuskegee Airmen," said Mr. Viv Edwards, the 98th Range Wing director of staff and president of the James B. Knighten Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. 

The Quys were happy to hold a piece of history and decided to name the plane in honor of its heritage. 

"'The Spirit of Tuskegee' is something my wife and I came up with - when we dedicated it to the Airmen," Captain Quy said. 

"I bought this particular aircraft on auction, it had been wrecked in an accident," Captain Quy said. "Basically, when it was crashed, all the wings were destroyed and there was some damage to the fuselage, the engine, the landing gear and brakes." 

Captain Quy dedicated his afternoons and weekends to rebuilding the plane with the support of his wife, Tina. He even commuted to his friend's home in Texas from Shreveport, La., to repair the plane's parts together. 

The hardest obstacles during this project were the amount of time it took to restore the aircraft and paying for the overhaul expenses out of pocket, he said. Some repairs on the Stearman were very time-consuming and required a lot of attention to detail - such as the wing tips. 

Fixing the plane was a working project for close to three years until the plane made its flying debut in late February last year, he said. 

By then Captain Quy was stationed at Creech AFB, Nev., and had joined the James B. Knighten Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. His plane was used as an exhibit for the local chapter and has been displayed in many shows. 

The Stearman was finally reunited with four of the Tuskegee Airmen during a show in Reno, Nev., last September, said Captain Quy. They also had a chance to fly in it. 

"It was an experience to be able to fly in a Tuskegee airplane with an original Tuskegee Airmen because they had flown 60 years earlier- that was the most amazing thing I've done in my entire life," Captain Quy said. 

The design of the Stearman was obsolete by the late 1930's, but the Army Air Corps liked this airplane for training, Captain Quy said. It is stable and ideal for learning flight maneuvers. Its specifications were also altered to provide more challenging ground handling characteristics for training. 

"If a pilot could take off and land in a Stearman, then they could handle the stick and rudder skills of more advanced planes," Captain Quy said. 

"The Spirit of Tuskegee" is currently displayed at the Arizona Wing Commemorative Air Force Museum in Mesa, Ariz.