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Rare plane back after five-year restoration

Shelly Burr and Dani Langer of Voila! Media Group check out the restored red-tailed Mustang.

The Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force welcomed one of its most popular airplanes, a red-tailed P-51C Mustang, back to the hangar in South St. Paul on Aug. 5 after a five-year absence.

The Red Tail Project, an all-volunteer non-profit organization associated with the Minnesota Wing, just completed a $1 million restoration of the Mustang, named Tuskegee Airmen.

It was the second restoration for the airplane, which crashed at an air show at the Red Wing Regional Airport five years ago.

After its original restoration, the Mustang toured the air show circuit for three years starting in July 2001. Its pilots and crew took every opportunity to tell audiences across the country the story of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first black fighter pilots to serve in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.

The Tuskegee Airmen painted the tails of their fighters red. As they proved their skill and courage in the skies over Italy and Germany, bomber pilots began requesting the "red tail angels."

The Airmen flew hundreds of missions,and earned hundreds of metals and designations, including the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007 in honor of their war service to the United States.

The Red Tail Project's Mustang crashed in May 2004 due to catastrophic mechanical failure at the Red Wing Air Show, killing the project's leader, Don Hinz, and destroying the airplane.

The members of Red Tail Project never doubted the plane would one day fly again, so it was trucked to Tri-State Aviation in Wahpeton, N.D., and fundraising began.

A group of stalwart volunteers worked closely with the staff of Tri-State to rebuild the Mustang so it could continue to serve as a tool to create interest in the history and legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen.

Now that the restoration is complete, the Red Tail Project will focus on the development of an educational traveling exhibit.

This "museum on wheels," which has "Rise Above" as its theme, will have interactive displays telling the story of the Tuskegee Airmen and their role in World War II and the desegregation of the U.S. armed services.