Tuskeegee Airman Takes Birthday Flight


Old habits die hard and when retired Air Force Col. Charles McGee took the controls of a HondaJet last week, he banked gently left and right, getting a feel for the ultramodern business jet. It was the day after the former Tuskegee Airman’s 99th birthday and the HondaJet ride, arranged by the National Business Aviation Association and Glenn Gonzales, whose company Jet It owns the aircraft, was part of a daylong series of celebrations to mark the milestone and McGee’s remarkable career. A loop over the Virginia countryside with McGee at the controls of the business jet was a highlight for the veteran of three wars and one of the most experienced combat pilots, and the Washington Post went along for the ride.

McGee earned his wings at the Tuskegee Army Airfield on June 30, 1943, flew P-39s, P-47s and P-51s for the 332nd Fighter Group in Italy in 1944 and flew 137 missions in the Second World War. He stayed in and did a stint as a B-25 instructor back in Tuskegee after the war. He flew 100 missions in a P-51 in Korea and 172 missions in the reconnaissance version of the F-4 in Vietnam, ending his flying career with a total of 409 combat missions. After landing at an executive airport in Hampton Roads in the HondaJet, he met with current military members, including Maj. Paul Lopez, an F-22 demo pilot, and reflected on a life in aviation and service. “Folks say, ‘You’re a hero.’ I don’t see it like that,” McGee said. “I just say life’s been a blessing.”