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Tribute to living legacy moves on: P-51 departs Dover for Seymore-Johnson

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- The Air Mobility Command Museum's P-51 Mustang display, modeled after the Tuskegee Airmen's legendary red-tailed fighter, will be moved to its new home at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., Saturday.

The aircraft has helped educate museum visitors about the accomplishments of the distinguished Word War II heroes for more than 10 years here.

The P-51 exhibit has an exciting storied past. In 1993, the aircraft was scheduled to go into storage at Bolling AFB, Washington, D.C., until a ceremonial center could be built. The AMC Museum here offered to display the aircraft until the new center was built.

The plane required a massive restoration before display, so museum volunteers and members of the 512th Airlift Wing stepped up and made the necessary repairs. The result of the two-year project was a world-class restoration of the Mustang adorned with the colors of the Tuskegee Airmen. The center's construction at Bolling AFB was cancelled, so the aircraft was added to the museum's collection.

When the plane was prepared for exhibit, members of the Tuskegee Airmen attended a dedication ceremony here in 1996, including Dr. Roscoe Brown, who piloted the P-51 after which the display was modeled.

"This is one of the greatest honors of my career," said Doctor Brown regarding the museum's decision to model its display after his WWII fighter. "It hurts that it's going to be moved."

At the time, Capt. Brown was one of the first American Airmen to shoot down a German jet fighter during WWII - a tremendous accomplishment since German jets were much faster than the P-51.

Museum visitors and staff are also saddened to see the aircraft removed from the collection.

"The staff is unhappy that the plane is leaving Dover," said Michael Leister, AMC Museum director. "The 512th (Airlift Wing) and museum volunteers worked for two years (on the aircraft); it has become part of our family. Since we did have P-51s stationed here during World War II and the Korean War, we felt that the plane should stay at Dover."

Those who enjoyed the "Red Tail" exhibit can find comfort in knowing that the time, care and effort invested in the aircraft will be appreciated by visitors at Seymour-Johnson's 4th Fighter Wing exhibit.

Initially, the aircraft will be housed in an available hangar at Seymore Johnson AFB while a facility is constructed for the display. There are several plans being discussed, one of which will house the plane in a small building next to a Royal Air Force Spitfire fighter, representing the Eagle Squadrons, which were later incorporated into the 4th Fighter Group and ultimately became the 4th Fighter Wing.

"The P-51 Mustang will probably be the most significant aircraft in our collection," said Dr. Roy Heidicker, 4th FW historian. "We cannot even begin to tell you how excited we are to receive such a treasure. We will be eternally grateful to Dover Air Force Base, particularly the people who restored this magnificent aircraft. This P-51 Mustang will be an honored addition to our base for generations to come."