Rare motor gliders flown in Grand Haven as tribute to Tuskegee Airmen

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

By Tony Wittkowski | Reporter | MLive – Muskegon Chronicle

MUSKEGON, MI — More than 70 years after the Tuskegee Airmen first took flight together, their memory lives on through the fly-in demos that took place on Saturday, Aug. 23 in Grand Haven.

Steve Tupper was one of the pilots who impressed the crowd that gathered at the Grand Haven Memorial Airpark for the fly-in and Dawn Patrol breakfast.

In the air, Tupper and company flew Schweizer TG-7A motor gliders, which are measured at 27.5 feet long, more than 8 feet tall and with a wingspan of 59.5-feet.

Even though the gliders fly at around 95 mph, Tupper said they are much slower compared to the real thing. Despite this, the gliders do hold some advantages over regular planes.

“These gliders tend to be very slow. We flew 500 feet off the ground and 500 feet away from the crowd (this morning),” Tupper said. “This allows us to do dramatic things, like simulate an engine failure and get back around. It’s impressive to pilots because it is not something you do in a regular airplane.”

Tupper, who is a team member of the Tuskegee Airmen national Historical Museum located in Detroit, was surprised to see so much support for aviation in the Grand Haven community.

The main intent of the show was to educate residents about the flying unit known as Tuskegee Airmen, who served as the first African American flying unit to see action in World War II.

Working with the national museum, Team Tuskegee instructs and flies with children from the inner city of Detroit. In a collaborative effort with the national museum, the Grand Haven Memorial Airpark, the Grand Haven Aviation Association and the Loutit District Library came together to bring the show and educational portion to West Michigan.

RELATED: Tuskegee Airmen the focus of fly-in, lecture to be held in Grand Haven

While expecting only a few hundred people, the event saw close to 1,000 attendees, Tupper said.

“The crowd really seemed to like the three aircrafts flying in close formation,” Tupper said. “The big thing was that people who have never been out to the airport showed up and learned a thing or two. Grand Haven is a place where people can learn how to fly the smaller aircrafts.”

After flying a demo at 10:30 a.m. – which lasted a good 10-14 minutes – the pilots met with kids and allowed them to get in and out of the gliders.

What surprised Tupper the most was the reaction they received the day before the fly-in demo. The pilots had completed a fly-over the day before to test the wind conditions, where afterward they were approached by random people on the street that either knew something about the planes or asked intelligent questions about them.

“We fly any number of air shows, but this was one of the best host committees we have ever had,” Tupper said. “We really enjoyed the people. Not that many air shows have that number of people.

“At the end of the day, all the best dreams occur in the atmosphere or above the atmosphere.”

Tony Wittkowski is a staff reporter at MLive Muskegon Chronicle. Email him at twittkow@mlive.com and follow him on Facebook and on Twitter.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Aug. 21, 2014)