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Tuskegee Airmen Watch Plane's Final Flight

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Capt Matthew Quay, a former bomber pilot, bought the damaged plane on eBay and restored it over three years with help from his wife. the plane will be a central exhibit in the Smithsonian's Museum of African American history.
Armando Trull
Capt Matthew Quay, a former bomber pilot, bought the damaged plane on eBay and restored it over three years with help from his wife. the plane will be a central exhibit in the Smithsonian's Museum of African American history.

A piece of American history is about to fly into the Smithsonian, after its last flight over the Potomac River yesterday.

Air Force Captain Mathew Quay is facing a bittersweet moment: preparing to fly a 1944 biplane which he bought on Ebay six years ago to satisfy a childhood dream.

"It had crashed a wing was crushed it was in pretty bad shape," he says.

When Quay traced the crop duster's past he was shocked. "They called me and said, 'You'd better sit down,'" he says.

The former bomber pilot was told he owned one of the few surviving planes used to train the legendary Tuskegee Airmen -- African American aviators who shattered the racial barrier and served with distinction in World War II.

"My wife and I sat down, and we said, 'What should we call it,' and 'Spirit of Tuskegee' came up," he says.

After a three-year restoration, Quay flew the brilliant blue and yellow plane all over the country, inviting Tuskegee Airmen to join him in the co-pilot's seat and to autograph the plane's hatch.

"This is the cargo compartment of the airplane," he says. "The real neat thing is a lot of them signed it with the class of planes they flew -- P45s, P40s."

One of those signatures belongs to Colonel Leo Gray who flew the Spirit of Tuskegee last year.

"They had to help get in there and get me out -- I don't access and enter as easy as I used to," he says. "But once I was in, was great."

Airman First Class Christopher Platte, the 22-year-old great-nephew of one of the Tuskegee airmen, came to see his great uncle's signature on the "Spirit of Tuskegee."

He feels "proud, inspired, and humbled," looking at it, he says.

Quay performed his final public flight Wednesday afternoon with an airborne salute over the Potomac for dozens of Tuskegee veterans, who watched from National Harbor in Maryland.

The Spirit of Tuskegee will now become part of the Smithsonian's new African American History museum, a testament to the band of brothers who battled Fascism in Europe and prejudice in America with courage and dignity.

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