15 November 2010

The Tuskegee Airmen

Dedicated! Proud! Determined! These are just a few of the words that can be used to describe the Tuskegee Airmen who were America's first Black (African American) military airmen who fought in World War II as the 332nd Fighter Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps. This was unique as the military was racially segregated and subjected to racial discrimination. Many states were still subject to the "Jim Crow laws".

They had to qualify both mentally and physically to be accepted into the aviation cadet training program and were very successful in their missions as bomber escorts in Europe. Many people thought that black men lacked intelligence, skill, courage and patriotism. Those who passed the qualifications and were accepted as aviation cadets were initially trained on single engine pilots and later as twin-engine pilots, navigators or bombardiers. Their "RED TAIL" planes (see picture at right) became famous. Many were college graduates or undergraduates.

The standards were not lowered for these men who trained as pilots or trained in operations, meteorology, intelligence and engineering. enlisted men were trained as aircraft and engine mechanics, radio repairmen, parachute riggers, control tower operators and many other areas.

The black airmen who became single-engine or multi-engine pilots were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) in Tuskegee, AL. The first aviation class began in July 1941. Thirteen started the class and five completed the training nine months later. From 1941-1946, 994 pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot's wings. After the war in Europe, black airmen returned to the United States and once again faced racism and bigotry.