Micki Steele / The Detroit News Detroit – Planes flown by the nation’s first African-American military aviators are hard to find.
That’s why officials at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum jumped at the chance to buy one. The museum spent a year raising the funds to pay for a World War II T-6 training plane — known as the “pilot maker” — once used by the celebrated all-black aviation unit.
The $200,000 deal was finalized in late September. One other such plane exists that was flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, said Brian Smith, the museum’s president. “It’s a national treasure.” The T-6 will be housed at Detroit City Airport and used for youth training and air show demonstrations. The vintage aircraft was produced at North American Aviation’s Dallas factory, delivered in 1943 to Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama and used until 1945. The same Dallas factory also made the P-51, a fighter plane flown by the African-American war pilots to escort bombers. Though it’s unclear what happened to the T-6 from 1946 to 1950, it was returned to the factory in 1951 to be reconditioned.
The seller is the daughter of a former Air Force colonel who purchased the plane in the early 1990s. Lucinda Novotny said her father, Rayvon Burleson, was unaware of the plane’s historical value. Burleson, who served in World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars, bought and sold vintage planes as a hobby. He researched the T-6’s serial number and learned its place in history. The newfound knowledge made it his favorite. “Her father really loved that plane,” said Novotny’s husband, Robert. Burleson flew it just days before he died and once told his son-in-law that the Tuskegee Airmen were some of the best pilots in the military.