Aviation Art: The Lighter Side

In wartime, a customized Zippo was part of an airman’s identity

(Cowan's Auctions)

Tuskegee Airmen


This World War II-era lighter is one of the few things in the Museum's collections relating to the Tuskegee Airmen. The lighter was donated by former Tuskegee airman and Museum curator Louis Purnell. "To have this," says Spencer, "a hand-etched piece, is pretty unique."

Purnell was a pilot with the 99th Fighter Squadron (the Army Air Corps' first all-black air unit). The squadron arrived in North Africa in 1943, and flew combat missions over both North Africa and Italy. To see Purnell's other donated item, a silk map of Italy, click here. Interested in learning more about Purnell? Listen to an oral history of his time as a curator in the Museum's Astronautics Department, here.


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