Service academy football is back, and the Air Force Academy is catching attention with season-opening new uniforms. The Falcons will temporarily hang up their Air Force blue to honor the "Red Tails" of the famed Tuskegee Airmen against the Naval Academy on Oct. 3.
The uniforms are an all-gray homage to the Army Air Forces' African-American airmen who trained and fought during World War II in the skies above Europe and North Africa, and the ground personnel who supported them.
The helmets are white, split with the distinctive red that colored the tail section of the P-51 Mustang fighters flown by the 332nd Fighter Group to identify the group in the air. Over the course of the war, Tuskegee pilots flew more than 15,000 combat sorties, downed 112 enemy aircraft and destroyed over 1,000 railcars, vehicles and aircraft on the ground.
Though a persistent myth that the Tuskegee Airmen never lost a bomber is untrue, their losses were far fewer than other units. They lost only 25 bombers to intercepting enemy fighters, while the rest of the 15th Air Force averaged 46 losses.
Their stellar combat record earned them the nickname "red tail angels" from other bomber crews. Later, it would become shortened to simply "red tails" by the rest of the 15th Air Force.
Also featured on the academy's football helmets are the individual unit patches from the four squadrons that comprised the 332nd Fighter Group -- the 99th, 100th, 301st and 302nd Fighter Squadrons. Yellow stripes from the P-51 and the Tuskegee Airmen's unofficial "Spit Fire" patch adorn the uniform shoulder. Gloves also feature the "Spit Fire" patch.
Backplates feature hand-lettered names written on their planes by Tuskegee Airmen, while the pants use stencil lettering on one leg and 20 "aerial victory markings" shaped like the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy on the other, indiciating 20 victories against Army and Navy since 1972.
It's the 2020 edition of the Air Power Legacy Series. Previous Air Power Legacy uniforms have honored the C-17 Globemaster III, the Flying Tigers and the AC-130 "Spooky" Gunship.
While Army and Navy are playing limited in-conference schedules, the Air Force's Mountain West Conference has yet to determine whether it will play conference games. As of this writing, the Falcons' schedule includes only games against Army and Navy.
Last season, Navy edged out Air Force 35-24 and took home the Commander-In-Chief's Trophy after dispatching the Army Black Knights later in the season. Air Force hasn't won the trophy since 2016.
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