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Rusty Burns

Tuskegee Airman and flight instructor Rusty Burns was born Isham Albert Burns, Jr. on July 24, 1925 in Charity Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. Burns developed his love for aviation in the fifth grade at Corpus Christi Catholic School. In 1939, he moved to Los Angles, California with his family where he studied aeronautics at Jordon High School. At age sixteen, he worked at Burbank Airport while learning about aircraft, theory of flight, navigation and meteorology. In 1942, Burns passed the federal aviation exam. After receiving his diploma in 1943, he was inducted into the United States Army at Fort MacArthur and was sent to Kessler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi. After completing basic training, he became a certified pre-aviation cadet.

Burns received his aviation training at Tuskegee Institute and Air Base where he graduated in 1944 as a single engine pilot making him one of the youngest of the Tuskegee Airmen. During his time at the Tuskegee Institute, he received twelve hours of college classes a day in addition to his training as a soldier. Burns trained on several aircrafts including the BT-13 and the AT-6. He successfully completed his training in September of 1944 and became a member of the 99th Fighter Squadron at Godman’s Field in Kentucky. Burns’ military career ended in June of 1945 as World War II ended. He returned to Los Angeles and joined the United States Postal Service where he worked for nine years.

Burns returned to aviation after buying and rebuilding his own airplane. In 1955, he opened Rusty’s Flying Service and began giving flight instruction, at Compton Airport. He became one of the only Tuskegee Airmen in Los Angeles to return to an aviation career. He trained over five hundred students before selling his business in 1971 to become an aviation consultant. He consulted for several companies in the private sector including Teledyne, Rocketdyne, Rockwell and North American Airlines. He retired in 1988 after developing a travel service program for the United States’ government.

Burns lives with his wife in California and has four children including author, Khephra Burns.

Burns was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 7, 2005.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Maker Category
Middle Name



Jordon High School

Corpus Christi Catholic School

Valena C. Jones Elementary School

Fisk High School

George Washington Carver Middle School

David Starr Jordan Senior High School

Pepperdine University

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Isham "Rusty"

Birth City, State, Country

New Orleans



Favorite Season




Favorite Vacation Destination


Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Palm Desert



Favorite Food

Red Beans, Rice

Short Description

Flight instructor and tuskegee airman Rusty Burns (1925 - ) received his aviation training at Tuskegee Institute where he graduated in 1944 as a single engine pilot, making him one of the youngest Tuskegee Airmen. He later returned to Los Angeles, and opened Rusty’s Flying Service, giving flight instruction at Compton Airport until 1971, after which he became an aviation consultant.


U.S. Post Office

Rusty's Flying Service

Teledyne Technologies

Aeroject Rockedyne

North American Airlines

Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Rusty Burns' interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Rusty Burns lists his favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Rusty Burns describes his mother's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Rusty Burns describes his father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Rusty Burns describes how his parents met</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Rusty Burns describes his earliest childhood memories</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Rusty Burns lists the schools he attended</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Rusty Burns remembers his parents separating</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Rusty Burns remembers earning money as a child</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Rusty Burns remembers going to the theater on Saturdays</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Rusty Burns remembers sneaking into New Orleans' segregated Saenger Theatre</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Rusty Burns remembers a racist incident in the 1970s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Rusty Burns describes Southern segregation in the 1930s</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Rusty Burns recalls his childhood activities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Rusty Burns describes the racial makeup of New Orleans, Louisiana</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Rusty Burns describes his education in New Orleans, Louisiana</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Rusty Burns remembers his early interest in aviation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Rusty Burns remembers moving to Los Angeles, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Rusty Burns describes his family's occupations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Rusty Burns remembers deciding to enlist in the U.S. Army</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Rusty Burns remembers gaining weight to enter the U.S. Army</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Rusty Burns remembers training at Keesler Field in Biloxi, Mississippi</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Rusty Burns describes his aviation training at Tuskegee Institute, pt. 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Rusty Burns describes his aviation training at Tuskegee Institute, pt. 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Rusty Burns remembers graduating from flight school in Tuskegee, Alabama</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Rusty Burns remembers his idol, fighter pilot Wendell O. Pruitt</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Rusty Burns remembers experiencing racism as a black Air Force officer</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Rusty Burns remembers going to Walterboro, South Carolina for fighter transition</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Rusty Burns describes the Freeman Field mutiny</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Rusty Burns remembers being discharged from the U.S. Air Force</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Rusty Burns remembers rebuilding his own airplane</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Rusty Burns describes his instructors at Tuskegee Army Airfield</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Rusty Burns remembers starting his own flight school, Rusty's Flying Service</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Rusty Burns remembers working for Teledyne Technologies</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Rusty Burns remembers working for Aerojet Rocketdyne</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Rusty Burns describes his family</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Rusty Burns remembers attending Pepperdine University in Malibu, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Rusty Burns describes his marriage to Treneta Burns</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Rusty Burns describes his social life</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Rusty Burns reflects upon the progress of African American pilots</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Rusty Burns reflects on missed opportunities to mentor black youth in aviation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Rusty Burns describes his involvement with the Los Angeles chapter of Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Rusty Burns talks about young African Americans in the field of aviation</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Rusty Burns reflects upon the history of the Tuskegee Airmen</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Rusty Burns remembers the Watts Riots</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Rusty Burns recalls his proudest moment</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Rusty Burns reflects upon his legacy</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Rusty Burns describes his hopes and concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Rusty Burns reflects upon hip hop and youth culture</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Rusty Burns talks about his son, Kephra Burns' play, 'Tall Horse'</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Rusty Burns describes his plans for the future</a>







Rusty Burns describes his aviation training at Tuskegee Institute, pt. 1
Rusty Burns remembers starting his own flight school, Rusty's Flying Service
We were talking about, you're at the institute [Tuskegee Institute; Tuskegee University, Tuskegee, Alabama], you're taking twelve hours of classes and being trained as a soldier, or--continue.$$I would be remiss if I didn't relate part of this journey to you, because it's our--part of our history. Every airman knows the name Chehaw [Alabama], C-H-E-E-H-A-W [sic.]. When we got--when we were on the train going to Tuskegee [Alabama], there was no place there, no train station for us to go to. We didn't go to Montgomery [Alabama] like most people did and find another way. We went to a little, small outhouse-looking building somewhere in the middle of nowhere called Chehaw. And this is where all the Tuskegee Airmen came on the train, this is where you got off the train at. So if you say, "Chehaw" to any Tuskegee Airman, it's going to bring a chuckle, because we've made jokes about Chehaw for all our time. Anyway, we went to the institute. And I believe Dr. Carver [George Washington Carver] at the time. And we were taking college classes. We were going to classes much the same as the students that were. And we got a pre-aviation cadet training. We got ten hours in a Piper Cub [Piper J-3 Cub]. You don't solo. You just get ten hours of flight training. The instructors were all black. They were all CPT [Civilian Pilot Training] training people. And this was kind of to get an orientation or a feel for whether you had the potential for beginning a pilot or not. I don't know that anybody failed to get through there, but you either got a recommendation for or against. And if you got one that said, "I don't think this guy can make it," you weren't going very far, you know. But if you got one that said, "Oh, I think he'll make a great pilot," then you--the way was paved slightly for you. So we were there, and I'm not sure I'm gonna get the timeframes exactly right, but we were there in January, but we stayed there, and I'm gonna say January and February, and then in April, May, June--January, February, March, April--no, February, March. At one point in time, they took us out of this pre-aviation cadet program and put us into the Army Air Corps Cadet Training Program, the first phase of what is preflight. And if I remember correctly, each phase was like maybe six weeks or something of that nature. You had upper and lower phases. And the phases were preflight, primary, basic and advanced, and that's when you graduated. These were the phases. And it was a year all together the whole program was a year. In backing up I can go December, November, October for advanced; September, August and July for basic, which sounds about right; July, June, May, April for primary. So it was January, February, March for preflight. You go through the preflight, and then it was April, May, June for primary. Primary was done at--not the Tuskegee Air Base [Tuskegee Army Airfield; Sharpe Field, Tuskegee, Alabama]--primary was done at the institute. We had a field called Moton Field [Tuskegee, Alabama], and that's where we did our primary in PT-17s [PT-17 Stearman]. We were fortune in that the government had some airplanes called Fairchild 19s [Fairchild PT-19 Cornell]; Fairchild 26 [Fairchild PT-26 Cornell] (unclear). They went from the PT-17, which was a gorgeous airplane, beautiful airplane; for some reason they went to this low-wing, wide landing gear, and I think it was because of the landing characteristics of the PT-17 had a tendency to ground loop because of the narrow gear. So they went to this low-wing airplane with the main landing gear with an inline engine to improve the potential for--to minimize a potential for--for accidents. It didn't work. It wasn't a good airplane. So we go back to the PT-17. About the time I went to primary, they went back to the PT-17, which was--I can be most grateful for that, because it was--I just loved that airplane. It was a--it was just an airplane that, you know, the wind-in-your-hair type thing, you know; Gosport tubes, talk to the instructor; sitting in an open cockpit with that radial engine in front, you know, with the two wings; do anything you want. The airplane would just--it had no limitations. So we had--I had three wonderful--upper and lower primary.$So we're in L.A. [Los Angeles, California], you and Paul [Paul Anderson] have identical planes (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) Yeah. Yeah.$$Parked side by side.$$This goes on. I build a second airplane, I take it out to the airport, and Paul and I decide to go into business together, rent a hanger [at Compton/Woodley Airport, Compton, California], you know. This is unheard of in the--except in Chicago [Illinois].$$What year is this now?$$This is '55 [1955].$$Fifty-five [1955].$$So Woodley [Earl Woodley] agrees to give us--to rent us a hanger. We got a beautiful hanger. He and I went into business. B 'nAir Service [ph.], Burns and Anderson; and we stayed together for about a year. And it was kind of a complicated thing. We didn't have one business that we were partners in. We had two businesses competing in the same hanger, which is very difficult to do. So at the end of about a year, we decided it was best that we went our separate ways. So, since he had been there first, he kept this hanger, I went to Woodley and got another hanger, and I started Rusty's Flying Service two or three hangers down. And that went from '55 [1955] to 1970. And I had a very good career. I quit the post office when went into business on the airport. But I still worked some part time. I still worked somewhat at North American [North American Airlines]. I eventually had to quit North American and work full time at the airport because the business grew, you know. I had really a tremendous business, therefore (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) Who were you teaching?$$--like ten years. Huh?$$Who were you teaching? Who were your students?$$Everybody. White, blacks, males, females. There was no--I had probably as many white students as I had black ones.$$Probably didn't start out that way, though.$$Yes. It did.$$Did it?$$Yes. It started out that way.$$Okay. Because '55 [1955] was a big year. Rosa Parks.$$Yeah. But we weren't having (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) You were removed from$$Yeah.$$But, I mean, like, because Rosa Parks was in '55 [1955]; also, Emmett Till. That stuff was happening in the South. Were you pretty far removed from that being in the West?$$Yes. Yes. We had black guys going to the white schools, and white guys coming to the black schools. It was either whose price or whose or who, you know, whoever you took a liking to, see. Well, I had probably all together, maybe probably around five hundred students, that's in my years there. So I did not have a problem with discrimination or bias in business that I know of. My instructors, I had three or four instructors, they were all white. The only black instructor I had took up next door and started his own business, see. So--and there weren't too many black instructors to begin with. Not a lot of our guys come out of Tuskegee [Tuskegee Army Airfield; Sharpe Field, Tuskegee, Alabama] took to aviation for some reason, you know. I was surprised that probably in L.A., and I'm sure this is in other--not another one of our guys that I know of ever had gotten in an airplane again, you know. There's a lot of ties there. I'm sure that may not be exactly true, but I don't know of any who did, you know. No guys who kept their license current.