New 360-Degree VR ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ Film Puts You in the Cockpit of a P-51 Mustang as a Whole New Way of Teaching History

On June 2, 1943 Lieutenant Charles B. Hall of the Army Air Forces shot down an enemy Italian fighter plane over the island of Pantelleria off the Tunisian Coast. He was the first African American ever to do so.

Hall was a member of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Black fighter pilots who trained at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and served as critical air support during the invasion of Italy and as bomber escorts over Occupied Europe thereafter. Their achievement is immortalized in a new 360-degree VR film created by New York-based studio Koncept VR and the World War II Foundation.

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“Tuskegee Airmen,” directed by Uli Futschik and Joergen Geerds, combines archive footage with voiceover reminiscences of surviving members of the Airmen and newly shot material — such as a 360-degree camera mounted on a P-51 Mustang, the nimble fighter craft associated with the Airmen that often had their tails painted red (hence the movie “Red Tails”).

“Research led us to the Commemorative Air Force, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving historic airplanes, and their restored P-51,” Futschik recenetly told XR Magazine. “We hired the P-51 and the dedicated CAF pilot for a day to shoot several aerial sequences. We set up our camera inside of the Mustang P-51 cockpit, as well as on the wings and the tail outside. This may very well have been the first flight in virtual reality on such a historical aircraft.”

At certain moments the film even interpolates footage shot recently with old archive images: A still image of the vintage P-51 photographed in color now suddenly has a Tuskegee Airman in the cockpit as taken from a black-and-white photo.

For the World War II Foundation, this is a way of making history come alive. The president and founder of the educational organization, Tim Gray, tells IndieWire that VR experiences like this — they’ve also released immersive 360-degree experiences placing you on Omaha Beach and the Battle of the Bulge — have received a positive reception. The Omaha Beach film has received over 145,000 views from headset wearers on Oculus TV and YouTube VR.

“The 360-degree films ‘bring’ people to places in history where the events actually happened,” Gray said. “In World War II that means Omaha Beach in Normandy, Pearl Harbor, the Battle of the Bulge and in this case, Italy, to the actual base where the Tuskegee Airmen were stationed during the war or in an actual P-51 Mustang, which the Tuskegee Airmen flew in missions over Europe…  It’s the next best thing to actually visiting the historic sites yourself.”

Watch the “Tuskegee Airmen” film below — and use the arrows to navigate around the images.

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