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Tuskegee Airmen Honored 73 Years After Competition Win

Rt Lt. Col James Harvey III, better known as the ‘Tuskegee Airmen,’ 332nd Fighter Group made history in 1949 by winning the Top Gun ‘Competition,’ an artillery competition that attracted the Air Force’s top pilots.

When their names were announced, there was silence without applause. One photographer took a single picture of the team with its trophy, stored 55 years later.


Rt. Lt. Col James Harvey III told USA TODAY, “Our victory was swept under the rug.”

As a high school student, Harvey looked out of his yard as P-40 fighter planes flew in training over him. At that time, he decided that he wanted to be a pilot of the Air Force.

Harvey said that he was enlisted in the army and sent to Fort Belvoir, Virginia, to help build airfields. But he quickly found out that the job was not for him and decided to apply for cadet training. Shortly after that, he was in Tuskegee, Alabama, at a flying school for black pilots in the U.S. Air Force.

Harvey said, 98, “And the rest is history.”

He describes himself as a perfectionist. He practices maneuver until it is perfect, dead set on “being the best at what I did. Most of all, he loved flying.”

Harvey said, “Flying is something you can’t explain. There is nothing like it. You have to experience it, understand.”

Once finishing the combat training in 1945, Harvey joined the Tuskegee Airmen, the now-legendary group of Black pilots who served during World War II.

During the war, the Tuskegee Airmen, known as the “Red Tails,” for having painted the tails of their aircraft in bright red.

According to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, it shot down 112 enemy aircraft and destroyed 150 aircraft on the ground and 600 railroad cars, and 40 boats. The museum says, “the Tuskegee project has been a resounding success.

A team of four highly-trained Tuskegee pilots was sent to Las Vegas for the first USAF Aerial Gunnery Competition in 1949.


Capt. Harvey said that the pilots, Alva Temple, 1st Lt. Harry Stewart, 1st Lt. Halbert Alexander and Harvey competed in aerial gunnery, panel strafing, dive-bombing, skip bombing, and rocket firing events.

Harvey said, “We knew we were going to win. Plus, we had plenty of incentive.”