Two pieces of aviation history came together at RAF Lakenheath when a wartime USAF pilot was reunited with the fighter he flew in 1945.
Everyone stopped to watch as the red-tailed P-51D Mustang dropped down among the 48th Fighter Wing’s F-15 jets as its current owner Peter Teichman flew it in to meet the man who flew it in Italy, retired USAF Lt Col George Hardy.
The fighter is now part of the Hangar 11 Collection at North Weald, beside the M11 in Essex, and Peter was eager to meet the 90-year-old veteran who had been one of the Tuskegee Airmen, a pioneering all-black fighter group during World War Two who had to fight prejudice as well as the Nazis.
Peter said: “Colonel George Hardy is a real war hero, the real deal.
“I never thought I would get to meet the colonel or to take him flying. He’s a very remarkable man, and men like him need to be remembered.”
Col Hardy said modestly: “So many great pilots, and I was flying with them.
“You couldn’t beat that – I was on top of the world. We demonstrated that we could fly like anyone else. ”
Nicknamed the Red Tails, by the time the 19-year-old Col Hardy joined 99th Fighter Squadron, 332nd Fighter Group at Ramitelli Air Base, Italy, in February 1945, they had gained an enviable reputation for covering the bomber streams against attack.
He flew 21 missions in World War Two but the USAF was segregated until 1948. Col Hardy has spoken of being ordered out of a cockpit of a B-29 bomber during the Korean War to be replaced by a white pilot. The B-29 was shot down.
He retired in 1971, having also fought in Vietnam. Col Hardy is now one of only 18 of the 900 Tuskegee Airmen left.
He was pleased to see the P-51, named ‘Tall in the Saddle’ by its previous pilot.
He said: “The greatest thing about this is that there’s a Red Tail flying in England. It means so much to us that there’s a Red Tail still around.”
Col Evan Pettus, 48th Fighter Wing commander, said: “The Tuskegee Airmen have a very rich history and an incredibly important place in the culture and heritage of the United States and the United States Air Force.
“To see him here on RAF Lakenheath in his aircraft is very, very special for us.”