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Palm Springs Air Museum Hosts Tribute for WWII Aviation Pioneers

Palm Springs Air Museum Hosts Tribute for WWII Aviation Pioneers

Captain Rusty Burns and Lt. Col. Bob Friend Honored at Tuskegee Airmen Tribute by Scott Alvarez / CoachellaValley.com

Patriotism was at an all time high in the years prior to the United States entering World War II, and everyone did their part to ensure an allied victory. Captain Rusty Burns and Lt. Col. Bob Friend were among the masses that answered the call to join the military during this period. Both men were quickly thrown into the “Tuskegee Experience”, which was the name given to the Army Air Corps Program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft.

The audience packed the hangar to hear Rusty and Bob share their experience as Tuskegee Airmen

Fast facts about the Tuskegee Airmen:

  • At the time, because of racial segregation, all African-American military pilots trained at Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field, close to Tuskegee, Alabama.
  • Tuskegee was a good place for training pilots because it had good flying weather all year long.
  • Captain Benjamin O. Davis Jr. commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron at Tuskegee. He was the first African-American to serve as a general in the United States Army.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen had several nicknames including the Red Tails, and the Red Tail Angels.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen’s motto was Spit Fire.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen destroyed 251 enemy airplanes.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen were awarded a total of 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses for their service.
  • A movie was made in 2012 about the Tuskegee Airmen called Red Tails


During the tribute at the Palm Springs Air Museum we learned that Bob Friend initially received instruction from the Civilian Pilot Training Program, which was a fast track system for civilians that already had their Pilots license. Recalling his experience with the men he was stationed with, Bob stated, “All of the men that I served with, every one of those guys, the group called the Tuskegee Airmen, couldn’t find better people. There weren’t better people”.  It was the stories and the memories that Rusty and Bob shared with the audience that made this tribute very special. Sitting in front of an audience packed hangar, both men took time to answer a few questions from the audience.

Bob Friend, right, describes his experience as a member of Tuskegee Airmen as Rusty Burns listens.

The best moment came when an audience member asked what it was like flying the P-51 [their combat plane] for the first time and Rusty’s response was, “I don’t remember ever getting off the ground and getting back down. Whatever I did up there, stayed up there”, which quickly filled the hangar with roars of laughter. The duo spent an hour entertaining the crowd with war stories and how their experiences differed from other members of the military during World War II. 

The tribute concluded with a great memorial for Lt. George Edwards. The Palm Springs Air Museum did an excellent job with their tribute. It was a great treat for those that attended and those that watched our live stream. 



Click here to view our live stream of the tribute.

The Palm Springs Air Museum is open daily from 10am-5pm (except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and February 17, 2017). Click here for more information about the Museum.

Click here to learn more about the Tuskegee Airmen.

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