COLORADO SPRINGS — Machines flying through the sky was still a rare phenomenon when Franklin Macon came into this world in 1923. Even still, it was hard to keep his feet on the ground.
“I started to learn how to fly when I was in high school,” Macon recalled.
The airstrip he learned on was then known as the Pine Valley Airport. It’s now the Air Force Academy Airfield in Colorado Springs.
“We used to fly around to different airports for the fun of it on the weekends, so doing, we happened to be in the Denver area and we saw this airplane sitting out in a field,” Macon said.
The airplane, a Stinson Vultee V-77, was literally in pieces with an asking price of $1,500. Macon negotiated down to $500 and spent more than that fixing it up.
The plane served in the same era as he, both plane and pilot veterans of World War II.
Out of high school, Macon tried to become a certified commercial pilot but was told he was too young to take the test, though, another opportunity found him.
“Then the draft board started breathing down my neck so I went to take the test again and then signed up in the Army air corps,” said Macon.
The U.S Army Air Corp preceded the U.S Air Force during World War II. It was an era of segregation in the country that extended into the service. All black pilots in training were sent to the Tuskegee Airfield in Alabama.
Macon could have opted to enlist again after ruptured eardrums kept him from flying before the end of the war, but he was left with a sour taste.
“I had time and they wanted me to re-up and I said I don’t like this segregated air corp and came home,” Macon added.
After seven decades, the slight has subsided as on Veteran’s Day, Macon donated the plane he found in the field in Denver to the National World War II Aviation Museum in Colorado Springs.
The plane’s story is interesting, though maybe not as much as its pilot. It was part of the United States’ Lend-Lease program for military equipment for Allied nations before the U.S. officially entered the war. The gullwing Macon had was one of 350 returned to the U.S.
Macon is one of around one hundred Tuskegee Airmen still alive today.
“Tuskegee airmen—they broke through a barrier at the time of the War,” said President and CEO of the National World War II Aviation Museum Bill Kaers said. “It was tough when they got in—segregation and everything else that was going on at that time. They had a tough role, they had to prove themselves to be some of the best and they were some of the best.”
Kaers said bombers escorted by Tuskegee were some of the most likely to survive their runs in Europe. The sacrifices and service they made contributed to the changes brought on by the Civil Rights Movement.
“World War II was a real big breaking point for the United States in a lot of different ways—equality and different things. So, you had to have a starting point and before that, you really didn’t have a starting point,” said Kaers.
The plane is currently white with an orange stripe on either side. That was part of Macon’s restoration process. The museum has plans to return it to its World War II look in a matter of time.
Macon has a book out describing his time as a Tuskegee Airman. Information on that and his life can be found here.