A tour guide will narrate the history of blacks in aviation against the backdrop of the famed Tuskegee Airmen exhibit. The museum is a block from the Birmingham-Shuttlesworth International Airport at 4343 73rd St. N. Hours of operation are Tuesday-Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
An original B-25 bomber used to train the Tuskegee Airmen is being refurbished on the floor next to the exhibit. It will be a cornerstone of the exhibit once it is finished next year.
Although admission to the museum is normally charged, the $6 tour is free in February. Those who are interested should call in advance to make reservations (205-833-8226). Individuals, families or small groups can customize the time of day to take the tour, which lasts an hour.
The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit is a life-size diorama representing black pilots and the Tuskegee Army Airfield during World War II. More than 900 black pilots trained at Tuskegee in southeast Alabama and were deployed around the country. Aircraft on display at the museum include the AT-6 Texan, BT-13 Valiant and PT-19 Cornell trainers.
“The Black Aviation Pioneers tours at the Southern Museum of Flight provide for a spotlight on significant periods of American history, and honor the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen and many others who broke barriers and overcame obstacles, including Bessie Coleman and Eugene Bullard,” said museum Executive Director Brian Barsanti. “It’s our goal offering the Black Aviation Pioneers Tour free this month to inform visitors about the significant contribution black pilots have made to the history of aviation.”
Coleman was the first black woman to hold a pilot’s license, while Bullard was the first black military pilot.
The B-25, a twin-engine plane recognized as the most versatile of World War II, was used as a trainer at Tuskegee from 1945 to 1946. It was given to the museum in 2016 by the Air Force while on display at the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, Illinois, home of the Tuskegee-trained 99th Fighter Squadron – the first flying unit for black airmen.
“We are trying something new at the museum with a restoration project that is essentially being completed on the museum floor,” Barsanti said. “This gives visitors the opportunity to view sections of the aircraft as they are being restored, engage with our restoration technicians and ask questions. This certainly adds to a much more interactive experience.”
Restoration is under the direction of museum curator Wayne Novy and restoration manager Zachary Edison. Most paint has been removed and the engines cleaned. The cockpit is almost complete, as some instruments had to be replaced and others fabricated.
Alabama Power’s Birmingham Division provided a grant for the project.
Since airmen who trained in the B-25 never saw combat, the plane hasn’t received the notoriety as other aircraft related to the group, such as the P-51 made famous in the 2012 movie “Red Tails.” But Barsanti said the overall importance of the plane will be showcased when it goes on display.
“The Tuskegee Airmen exhibit represents a spotlight shining down on a significant period in American history,” Barsanti said. “This tribute highlights such an extraordinary group of men and women who continue to provide inspiration for anyone who dares to dream.”
Founded in 1966, the Southern Museum of Flight displays civilian, military and experimental aircraft with engines, models and other artifacts. One of the original crop-dusters flown by the forerunner of Delta Air Lines is included, as are the 70 plaques of members of the Alabama Aviation Hall of Fame.
The museum features flight simulators popular with children and teens. Several fighter jets can be seen inside the perimeter of the airport fence along 43rd Avenue and 68th Street.
For more information, visit www.southernmuseumofflight.org.