The Tuskegee Airman were an elite group of African-American pilots in the 1940s. They were pioneers in equality and integration of the Armed Forces.
The "Tuskegee Airmen" refers to all who were involved in the Army Air Corps program to train African-Americans to fly and maintain combat aircraft. The Tuskegee Airmen included pilots, navigators, bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all the personnel who kept the planes in the air.
The primary flight training for these servicemembers took place at the Division of Aeronautics of Tuskegee Institute. Air Corps officials built a separate facility at Tuskegee Army Air Field to train the pilots. The Tuskegee Airmen not only battled enemies during wartime but also fought against racism and segregation thus proving they were just as good as any other pilot. Racism was common during World War II and many people did not want blacks to become pilots. They trained in overcrowded classrooms and airstrips, and suffered from the racist attitude of some military officials. The Tuskegee Airman suffered many hardships, but they proved themselves to be world class pilots.
Even though the Tuskegee Airmen proved their worth as military pilots they were still forced to operate in segregated units and did not fight alongside their white countrymen.
One honor the Tuskegee Airmen hold true is that they never lost a bomber under their escort during World War II. Such honors as this earned the men the nickname "Red Tail Angels." The Airmen earned this title because of the red paint on the propeller and tail of their planes.
In March of 1942 George Roberts, Benjamin Davis Jr., Charles BeBow Jr., Mac Ross and Lemuel Custis received silver wings of Army Air Force pilots. These men completed the standard Army flight classroom instruction and many hours of flight time. Receiving their silver wings marked a milestone in being the first African-Americans to qualify as military pilots in any branch of the armed forces.
By the end of the war, 992 men had graduated from pilot training at Tuskegee; 450 were sent overseas for combat assignment. During the same period, about 150 lost their lives while in training or on combat flights. These black airman manage to destroy or damage over 409 German airplanes, 950 ground units, and sank a battleship destroyer. They ran over 200 bomber escort missions during World War II.
On Nov. 6, 1998, President Clinton approved Public Law 105-355, which established the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field in Tuskegee, Ala., to commemorate and interpret the heroic actions of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
Major contribution by Airman Brian Butkus, 375th Airlift Wing Public Affairs.