Washington, DC, October 11, 2012 – The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) will bestow the organization's highest award to a legendary group of aviators who successfully battled discrimination and adversity as they defended their country in World War II.
Members of the Tuskegee Airmen squadron will receive NBAA’s 2012 Meritorious Service to Aviation Award on Wednesday, Oct. 31 during a general session at the Association’s 65th Annual Meeting & Convention (NBAA2012) in Orlando, FL.
“We are honored to present this award to these storied aviators, who in a time of great peril defended the United States and its principles, even as they faced intolerance at home," said NBAA President and CEO Ed Bolen.
Named for the Alabama home of their training base, the Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American military aviators in the United States armed forces, flying more than 1,500 combat missions from June 1943 through April 1945.
The squadron operated a wide variety of aircraft, most notably the P-51 Mustang. The livery chosen for the group's aircraft earned the Tuskegee Airmen the appreciative nickname "Red Tails" from the bomber crews who relied on them for protection.
“The Tuskegee Airmen battled prejudice and segregation as effectively as they fought against the Axis forces over Europe, becoming one of the most highly decorated and respected fighter groups of World War II,” Bolen continued. “They serve as an inspiration for anyone faced with adversity to overcome forces that limit their potential.”
Scheduled to accept the award on behalf of the Tuskegee Airmen are Lieutenant Colonel Leo R. Gray, USAF, and Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Jefferson, USAF. Gray began his combat flight training in 1943, ultimately flying 15 missions over Italy before leaving active duty in 1946. He remained active in the U.S. Air Force Reserves until his retirement in 1984.
Forced to bail out on his 18th mission over Germany in August 1944, Jefferson was held as a prisoner of war until the end of hostilities in Europe. He later served as an instructor at Tuskegee Army Airfield. Following his retirement from the Air Force Reserves in 1969, Jefferson became a teacher and assistant principal in the Detroit public school system.
Joining the Tuskegee Airmen will be acclaimed filmmaker George Lucas, producer of the 2012 filmRed Tails, which recounts the group's history. Lucas, who personally funded production for the movie, is also expected to join a discussion at NBAA2012 featuring a panel of African American aviators, including Lloyd “Fig” Newton, a retired four-star general with the U.S. Air Force, and a member of NBAA’s Board of Directors.
In conjunction with the award presentation, NBAA will feature on the Static Display of Light Business Airplanes and Helicopters outside the Orange County Convention Center a period-correct North American T-6 Texan training aircraft, painted in authentic Tuskegee squadron markings, as well as a “RISE ABOVE” Traveling Exhibit. The exhibit’s mobile theater will also be on hand Wednesday, Oct. 31, and Thursday, Nov. 1, where NBAA2012 Attendees may view a video presentation celebrating the group's accomplishments and impact on aviation today. Also, NBAA’s Static Display of Aircraft at Orlando Executive Airport will feature a P-51 Mustang operated by the squadron.
The NBAA Meritorious Service to Aviation Award is NBAA's most distinguished honor, in recognition of extraordinary lifelong professional contributions to all facets of the aviation industry. For decades, Meritorious Service to Aviation Award winners have celebrated, through perseverance and technological innovation, the miracle of flight and what may be achieved through it.