Col. Charles McGee Flies for 100th Birthday

The Tuskegee Airman commands a Cirrus Vision Jet to celebrate.

Col. Charles McGee
Col. McGee gives a thumbs up after piloting the Cirrus Vision Jet, with demo pilot Boni Caldeira, of Cirrus Aircraft.Stephen Yeates

A life with its foundation based on the 4 Ps: perceive, prepare, perform, and persevere—that aptly describes the 100 years now seen by Col. Charles E. McGee. The former Tuskegee Airman celebrated his century of living and flying on December 7, 2019, with a flight the day before in a Cirrus Vision Jet, in which, according to Cirrus Aircraft demo pilot Boni Caldeira, he taxied out, took off, and maintained great situational awareness throughout the flight all the way to its conclusion. The route took the jet over to Dover Air Force Base, home of the 436th Airlift Wing, where more than 100 service members greeted McGee and gave him a rousing line of high-fives.

The flight launched from the ramp outside of AOPA’s National Aviation Community Center at the Frederick Municipal Airport in Maryland, with a P-51 Mustang flown by Andrew McKenna joining the jet for the departure as a tribute. A gathering of more than 100 people came to witness the event, and then to honor McGee with a festive luncheon and parade of citations and well-wishes, organized by Vince Mickens and Private Air Media Group. A personal video greeting from FAA Administrator (and fellow Air Force pilot) Steve Dickson joined a birthday card signed by the Smithsonian Institution president and staff at the National Air & Space Museum. Pete Bunce, president and CEO of the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, announced the next milestone on McGee’s schedule: to fly in the Arsenal of Democracy V-E Day commemoration in Washington, D.C., on May 8, 2020. Maryland Senator Chris Van Hollen’s office and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s office also presented proclamations to Col. McGee.

But the most poignant contribution to the accolades was without question delivered by a student from Julius West Middle School in Rockville, Maryland, whose essay on the colonel’s life granted him the excused absence he needed to attend the birthday party. Joshua Gibson read aloud his essay, and in closing said, “I aspire to be an aeronautical engineer; it wouldn’t be possible…[without] real life heroes who can make us proud of who we are.”

Col. McGee served for 30 years in the USAF, including his 136 combat missions in World War II as part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron, and service in Korea and Vietnam, which brought his total to 409 combat missions. “Let excellence be your goal in everything,” said McGee, addressing the luncheon guests. He reminded those in attendance that he took the honor of their tributes not for himself, but for those who never returned, and those who are no longer with us to receive them.