Visitors to the National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport on Friday would have seen this: the first half of an engine swap on the Spirit of Tuskegee, a PT-13 Stearman biplane conveyed to the Smithsonian by Matt and Tina Quy. After buying the airplane as a wreck, they discovered that it had been used in 1944 and 1945 to train Tuskegee Airmen at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala. Since its restoration was completed, they’ve been using the airplane to honor the airmen; a number have flown in the airplane and dozens have signed the inside of its baggage hatch.
Less than a week earlier, Quy took the plane to Moton Field in Tuskegee, revisiting its first duty assignment after being built by Boeing in 1944. His passengers included Leroy Eley of Atlanta, an 84-year-old Tuskegee Airman who drove to Tuskegee to see the historic aircraft.
For the past month, Quy–a captain in the U.S. Air Force–has been making his way to Washington with the airplane. On the trip his stops included the Air Force Academy in Colorado; EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh; Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala.; and Andrews Air Force Base, the latter for the 7oth anniversary reunion of the Tuskegee Airmen. Quy discussed the airplane and his journey with AOPA Live during AirVenture. Dik Daso, a National Air and Space Museum curator, accompanied Quy on the flight from Tuskegee to Washington, and blogged about the experience.
The Spirit of Tuskegee made its last flight on Friday, Aug. 5, when the Quys flew it to Washington Dulles International and taxied to the Udvar-Hazy Center. Even then, however, the airplane continued to make history: It’s the first artifact to be worked on in the museum’s new Mary Baker Engen Restoration Hangar, a just-opened, 235,000-square-foot facility where visitors can watch restoration projects from elevated viewing areas. Among other details, Quy and the Smithsonian crew are swapping engines and brakes on the airplane, to return it as closely as possible to its original appearance.
The Spirit of Tuskegee will be displayed temporarily at Udvar-Hazy; in 2015, it will move to the Smithsonian’s new National Museum of African American History and Culture in downtown Washington, D.C. It will be the only aircraft displayed in the museum. Look for a story on this historic airplane in an upcoming issue of AOPA Pilot.