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Brig. Gen. McGee celebrates 102nd birthday

The 99th Flying Training Squadron hosted an action-packed 102nd birthday event to honor McGee, one of the few remaining Tuskegee Airmen. In true military fashion, the event began with a slideshow briefing by Lt. Col. Cory Henwood, who summarized the squadron’s mission, history, and objectives within the organization. After the presentation, McGee stated his approval of the squadron’s goals: “You all are preparing the force for the future; that’s fantastic.”

McGee’s family also asked several questions relating to the squadron’s fleet of aircraft, the instructor pilot training process, and how it promotes diversity in its ranks. Col. Matt Collins summarized the unit’s diversity and inclusion plan by stating, “We send instructor pilots of all backgrounds to colleges for career days… we are trying to recruit and inspire an interest in aviation service at much younger [ages]. We’re engaging with local colleges—historically Black colleges and universities—to foster that interest in aviation.” The detailed plan for promoting diversity earned high praise from McGee and his family.

The history of the 99th Flying Training Squadron is a long one, with its roots tracing back to the 99th Pursuit Squadron—a group more commonly known as the Tuskegee Airmen or the Army Air Corps’ first African American fighter squadron. Members of the squadron underwent initial training in Tuskegee, Alabama, from 1941 to 1949. Here, airmen including McGee received initial pilot training in Boeing PT–17 Stearmans. Trainer aircraft laid the foundation for advancing to fighters like the North American P–51 Mustang and Curtiss P–40 Warhawk.

Although the Tuskegee Airmen are generally thought of as being a group of all-Black pilots, McGee also reminded everyone present at his birthday celebration that “the very first Tuskegee Airmen were mechanics [that] were expected to fail, but they didn’t. So, it’s important that we realize, though, that the beginning was mechanics.”

Event attendees included local news reporters, aviation journalists, warbird and active military pilots, McGee’s family, and several friends. One friend in particular was retired Southwest Airlines Capt. Tammie Jo Shults, who rose to aviation fame after piloting a Boeing 737 aircraft to safety after experiencing an in-flight catastrophic engine failure.

Birthday activities lasted until the early afternoon and included flying a T–1A Jayhawk simulator and enjoying birthday cake, as well as several opportunities to sit and chat with McGee. Perhaps the most touching moment occurred on the ramp when attendees sang “Happy Birthday” to McGee after he was gifted a framed image of a Red Tail P–51 Mustang flying alongside the squadron’s T1–A Jayhawk.

Richard McSpadden, senior vice president of the AOPA Air Safety Institute, said, “B[rig]. Gen. McGee has inspired so many people. It was moving to be a part of his celebration amidst the sentimental setting in the historic 99FTS.”

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