Climbing into the T-6 trainer was Frank Macon’s biggest concern. The rest, he was sure, would come back to him. Even at 95.
The last time Macon flew one of the propeller-driven aircraft was in 1945. He had a cold, which, along with some quick and perhaps dicey maneuvering, burst his ear drums in the air. He spent the last days of World War II in the hospital.
Macon, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, grinned like a teenager Thursday before and after reuniting with the smooth, silver aircraft at the Colorado Jet Center at the Colorado Springs Airport. With pilot Wade “Hash” Tagg, the pair buzzed the airstrip, barrel rolled and soared high above the city, which Macon has called home essentially since birth.
Frank’s taking off. Might not look like it with the iPhone camera but trust me, those props are moving fast. pic.twitter.com/fZZ7LN7qRC— Conrad Swanson (@Conrad_Swanson) June 6, 2019
“Oh to be 19 again,” Macon said after his brief, but eventful flight. “The controls felt great. They say flying’s just like riding a bicycle … you feel it in the stick, the rudders.”
Friends on the ground joked that they were concerned Macon wouldn’t return to the ground.
“I wished we didn’t have to come back, but we can’t refuel this one up high,” Macon said. “Oh that felt good.”
Macon’s flight was courtesy of Dale Katechis — the owner of Oskar Blues Brewery, who also owns the plane and employs Tagg — in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
Macon learned to fly while in high school, joining the Army Air Corps in 1943 as part of the Tuskegee program putting African Americans in the cockpits of military aircraft for the first time. Back then Macon flew a T-6, though he graduated too late to see combat overseas.
Macon is one of only a handful of surviving Tuskegee Airmen. Of the 355 fighter pilots who served in the Mediterranean theater during World War II, 12 were still alive in May, according to tuskegeeairmen.org
In the years since, Macon’s taken an interest in local educational programs, the Air Force Academy, worked with Elizabeth Harper on a book about his life and flown many aircraft. A recent favorite has been a glider, he said, but that was before carefully climbing back into the T-6’s cockpit.
“Oh that felt good,” he said to nobody in particular with a sigh of relief. Then he turned to the small crowd around him and said wryly, “That was all right.”
“He could feel it,” Tagg said. “I could tell.”
Harper spends time with Macon often. The pair have come to know each other well after writing the book together. He was giddy in the days leading up to the flight, she said.
“To fly in this plane is like going back for him,” Harper said.
Watching as Macon took off were students from the Griffith Centers for Children Residential Treatment Facilities. The group travels outside the classroom each week for real-world experience, several students said.
This week’s field trip was to meet Macon, one student said. To see history in action.
“It makes me feel more connected,” another student said. “We can see what his daily life was like.”
The flight, and Macon’s story was inspirational and motivational, he continued.
“It makes me feel like I can live a long, successful life and have a story as well,” he said. “And the plane is so old, it’s cool to see. That plane has so much history behind it. It’s a pretty amazing thing to do at 95.”
Nowadays, pilots have a different experience, Macon said. He almost feels bad for them.
“They’re just gonna be pushing these buttons,” he said, gesturing with his fingers. “They won’t get the fun of the controls.”