‘Mission Accomplished’ – Tuskegee Airmen recognized for 1949 Top Gun Victory

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Zachary Rufus
  • 57th Wing Public Affairs

“We’re finally being recognized for something we accomplished 73 years ago,” said Lt. Col. James Harvey III, former fighter pilot with the 332nd Fighter Group, best known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

In 1949, Harvey, alongside the 332nd Fighter Group from Lockbourne Air Force Base, Columbus, Ohio, won the U.S. Air Force’s inaugural Fighter Gunnery Meet “Top Gun,” a worldwide gunnery competition where the best pilot teams in the U.S. Air Force came together to compete for the top spot.

The Tuskegee Airmen were young African Americans, determined to be aviation pilots, who met with obstacles such as the widespread belief that Black people could not learn to fly or operate sophisticated aircraft.

The Top Gun team consisted of four members: Capt. Alva Temple, 1st Lt. James Harvey III, 1st Lt. Harry Stewart and 1st Lt. Halbert Alexander.

The gunnery competition consisted of: aerial gunnery at 12,000 feet and 20,000 feet, skip bombing, rocket firing, panel strafing and dive bombing.

Although the 332nd Fighter Group led the meet from start to finish, the official results for first place were recorded as “unknown” for nearly 46 years. Present-day, 73 years after the historic win, the American Association of Retired Persons’ Wish of a Lifetime organization met with Harvey to grant his “wish” - that his team be widely recognized.  

“We weren’t supposed to be able to fly aircraft, we weren’t supposed to be able to win this competition, but we did and we were the best,” said Harvey.

On Jan. 11, Gen. Mark Kelly, Air Combat Command commander, presided over the unveiling of a plaque commissioned to reaffirm the accomplishments of the 332nd Fighter Group’s win.

“We stand on the shoulders of giants in this profession, and Lt. Col. Harvey is one of those giants,” said Kelly.

Although the plaque is 73 years late, it will be displayed prominently at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School forever.

“At the Weapons School, our mission today is exactly what it was when Lt. Col. Harvey was here 73 years ago,” said Col. Daniel Lehoski, U.S. Air Force Weapons School commandant. “We take young officers and put them through the most rigorous training we can to make them ready for combat. We learned this from Lt. Col. Harvey and his generation, and I can’t thank him enough for the example he set for the Air Force and the Weapons School.”

The Tuskegee Airmen blazed a path of excellence for the Air Force through their piloting expertise, determination to denounce racist beliefs and resiliency to overcome significant obstacles, which still motivates and inspires the diverse population of Airmen serving in the U.S. Air Force today.

“Thank you, it’s been a long time coming, and it’s a step in the right direction,” said Harvey. “I can finally close the pages on this chapter and say, ‘mission accomplished.’”