HAM Radio 101

The New T-7A Red Hawk Training Aircraft to Honor Tuskegee Airmen like Amateur Radio Operator George Mitchell, K6ZE, SK

On April 28 of this year, the Air Force unveiled a new T-7A Red Hawk training aircraft with a decidedly spectacular paint job to directly honor the trailblazing achievements of the WWII Tuskegee Airmen who were the first African-American aviators allowed to fly as pilots in the Air Force in 1944. The T-7A Red Hawk is named after the Curtiss P-40 Warhawk and the 99th Fighter Squadron—the first African-American fighter squadron in WWII.

While our military today fights to protect our freedoms, those freedoms were not always guaranteed to all members of our society, and the Tuskegee Airmen truly blazed a trail as they combated discrimination both in the military and as civilians. One such member of the Tuskegee Airmen who accomplished such feats was longtime ham and Congressional Gold Medal recipient George Mitchell, K6ZE, SK.

An ARRL Life Member, Mitchell directly incorporated his amateur radio training into his role in the Air Force, teaching Morse code to the Tuskegee Airmen. A Philadelphia native, Mitchell developed an interest in amateur radio at age 12 and would remain active throughout his life. In regard to his time as a Tuskegee Airman, Mitchell stated in a San Diego Times interview in 2003, “The world looked at us as second-class citizens. We knew we were in a fishbowl. We knew we couldn’t fail.”

And they would not fail—despite odds stacked precariously against them.

Until the Roosevelt administration, African-American servicemen had been barred from training as military pilots as the result of highly discriminatory and misplaced findings from a 1920s War Department report that claimed that African-Americans “weren’t smart enough or disciplined enough to fly a plane.” Despite this, the 66th Air Force Flying School (known as the Tuskegee Institute) came into being in the face of a federal lawsuit against its opening and subsequent protests. Servicemen on the Alabama base were even banned from carrying rifles.

However, when Eleanor Roosevelt visited, things changed for the better. Against the objections of her security men, she took flight on the airfield during her visit and later continued to fly in the direction of common sense and equality when she convinced President Roosevelt to remedy a pilot shortage by incorporating the Tuskegee Airmen into battle. And, of course, it was successful with more than 15,000 Tuskegee fighter pilots flying more than 15,000 sorties over North America and Europe during the war.

For his part, Mitchell worked as a civilian engineer for the U.S. Navy following his stint in the war and later worked for Scripps Institute of Oceanography. He spoke regularly to schools and civic groups about the Tuskegee Airmen and their part in reconstructing social values and equality-based arguments.

He belonged to the OMIK Amateur Radio Association, the Air Force Flyers Club, the Old Old Timer’s Club, and the Quarter-Century Wireless Association (QCWA) from which he received a 75-year certificate in 2012. He was inducted into the CQ Amateur Radio Hall of Fame in 2016.

Mitchell passed away on September 4, 2014, at the age of 94. His achievements and commitment to equality, however, continue to live on.

See more about the inequalities, determination, and triumphs of the Tuskegee Airmen in this short video that’s well worth a watch. To read an article about another Tuskegee Airman amateur radio operator, search on “Julius T. Freeman” above.

Leave a Reply