Duluth, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - On Firday, our crew had the opportunity to take flight in a Red Tail P 51C Mustang, to be exact, world famous fighter plane flown by the all African American 332nd Fighter Group, the Tuskegee Airmen.
Not only did we get a chance to ride in the cockpit, but we even had the privilege of speaking with the man whose mission it was to fly that Red Tail over hostile air, and the man whose making it his missions to preserve and tell their story.
Pilot Doug Rozendaal, of the Red Tail Squadron, has been flying the P 51C Mustang for 11 years.
"The Red Tail is the signature of the Tuskegee Airmen. This airplane flies as a tribute to honor the Tuskegee Airmen, who were the African American aviators of World War II," said Rozendaal, who has been flying war planes for 25 years.
...and 92–year–old Doctor Joe Gomer is just that.
"Well, I wish we would've had these over at Ramitelli. They weren't this shiny," said Gomer, who is the only Tuskegee Airman living in Minnesota.
And on Friday, history unfolded in front of us, which is exactly what Rozendaal and his Red Tail Squadron are aiming for.
The Red Tail Project travels across the nation with a mobile exhibition, featuring a 170 degree, 50 foot long panoramic screen that airs an immersive film on how the Tuskegee Airmen overcame the obstacles to be allowed to fight as the first black U.S. Army Air Corps pilots.
"It's the history that's keeping us here, you know. People don't realize that this was the beginning," said Gomer.
But the best way to experience history on this day was in the cockpit.
It's a humbling experience to think that close to 1,000 pilots flew in the same model that escorted over 15,000 World War II bomber missions, let alone see the Northland as the leaves reach peak fall colors.
And Rozendaal even made sure to replicate the same halo–like shadow on the clouds that Gomer himself created during his flights overseas.
And a safe touchdown served as a reminder of those who took to the skies only to never return.
"...and the great sacrifices that were made by our grandparents so that we could live in a country that's free," said Rozendaal.
The Rise Above Traveling Exhibit will be active and open to the public all weekend, and they'll be ready for any crowd size with two different versions of their educational film.