Among the planes flying into Port Meadville Airport next week will be an older model with a maximum speed of 505 mph, a range of 1,000 miles and a distinctive red tail. It’s a plane that originally carried just a pilot — and 1,000 rounds of ammunition for four .50-inch machine guns and six high-velocity aerial rockets.
The plane in question is a P-51C Mustang manufactured in 1944 and used for pilot training in Florida and Georgia during the final months of World War II.
And if the red tail didn’t give it away, it’s the type of long-range escort fighter plane made famous by the Tuskegee Airmen, the Black soldiers who made up the 332d Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces.
The plane comes to Meadville as part of the Aviation Legends American History Expo that takes place at the airport from Wednesday through May 14. The P-51C Mustang may make the most stylish entrance to the free event, but it is by no means the only attention-getting display likely to draw crowds.
“It’s something completely different for the people of Crawford County,” said Greg Hayes, the owner of North Coast Flight School Inc., the Port Meadville-based company behind the event. “We’re glad to be able to get this out to the public.”
Hayes said he organized similar events for many years at Erie International Airport. When he moved his flight school to Port Meadville in late 2021, he knew he wanted to do something similar at his new air field.
“I think it’s going to be bigger than anything we’ve had down this way for as long as I can remember,” he said.
The airport’s manager, Mike Goss, expects Port Meadville to be busy.
“We’re just excited to show off our airport and have this type of community event going on,” he said Thursday. “Hopefully we’ll continue to have these sorts of events in the future and continue to grow our airport.”
In addition to a vintage World War II fighter, the busloads of school children and cars full of community groups that are expected will see exhibits from the U.S. Brig Niagara and Erie Maritime Museum, a flight simulator and static jet engine display from the U.S. Air Force, North Coast presentations and sea planes from that will be flying in from around the region.
Among the exhibitors will be Chris Allen, manager of the Rise Above Traveling Exhibit of the Commemorative Air Force. In addition to bringing the P-51C, Rise Above will roll into town with its 53-foot semi-trailer traveling theater experience. The theater’s panoramic screen will show short films on the Tuskegee Airmen and the Women Airforce Service Pilots, a civilian organization of female pilots that made significant, though largely unrecognized, contributions to the World War II effort.
“Anyone who admires heroics should know both of these stories,” Allen said Thursday from Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Hampton, Virginia, where the mobile exhibit was setting up for a weekend show.
The distance of time, Allen explained, makes it difficult to realize the peril facing the Allies early in World War II.
“The whole free world was in a place of jeopardy I don’t think we fully appreciate now,” he said. “Against that background, you had two groups of people — Black America and the women of the 1940s — whose service was offered and wasn’t wanted, even when it was needed, because of biases and prejudices of the time. Yet against that background, their desire to serve was so great that they overcame those obstacles, met those obstacles with the best solution, which is be excellent at what you do.”