The closest most people get to a P-51 Mustang is looking at a picture. Unless, of course, you get your hands on an “aircraft” that’s a computer simulation of the ones flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black pilots in the American military. The simulator is part of the A.C.E.S. Flight Simulation attraction at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn.
In addition to letting people live out their fighter pilot fantasies, the simulators provide the opportunity to educate people about The Red Tail Project, an organization created to tell the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, who flew Mustangs with red tails in World War II.
“We hear admiration from World War II B-17 veterans who thank the Tuskegee Airmen for flying escort for them,” notes Red Tail Project Coordinator Stan Ross. “We also heard from a man who claimed to be a P-51 pilot during World War II who said there were no black pilots because he would have heard about it and he did not. That tells us we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Red Tail Project shares retail space with the simulators. This allows the group to sell books, caps, and other memorabilia. Proceeds are used to restore a real P-51 that was badly damaged in a crash in May, as well as further the group’s community outreach education efforts.
“So far we have raised about $125,000 of the $2 million we need,” said Ross. The group is looking for corporate sponsors to help it reach its goal.
“The best part of this is when we get the guys who were the real Tuskegee Airmen out and they meet the public,” he said. “Those are the best days.”