The saga began as a "reluctant" experiment in rural Alabama, designed to prove or disprove the airworthiness of blacks as combat pilots, and became the greatest World War II secret weapon employed by the United States Army Air Corps in the sky over Europe and North Africa. The Tuskegee Airmen, America's Black Air Force.
Flying an assortment of combat aircraft, often antiquated P-39's, P-47's, P-40 Warhawks and deadly P-51 Mustangs. The Tuskegee Airmen used bravery, bullets and bombs to etch into history an unequalled combat record.
In combat the black aviators of the 99th Fighter Squadron became feared and respected as "Schwartze Vogelmenschen" (Black Birdmen) by the German pilots who faced their guns and by the white American bomber crews they protected as the "Fighting Red Tail Angels" because of their planes' bright red tails.
By war's end, the Tuskegee Airmen of the 332nd Fighter Group (spearheaded by the Fighting 99th) had racked up an impressive list of victories and accomplishments. During 206 missions escorting long-range, heavy B-17 and B-24 bombers, the
Tuskegee fighter pilots never lost a bomber to enemy planes, a record never matched in military history. They quickly became the pilots that bomber crews wanted as escorts during the more than 1600 mile bombing in the heart of Germany and back.
The War Department activated the all-black 99th Pursuit Squadron (later to become the 99th Fighter Squadron) on January 16, 1941, and the "Tuskegee Experience" began on July 19, 1941, when 13 black college graduates passed muster and began aviation training at Tuskegee Army Airfield on the campus of Tuskegee Institute. (In 1881 Booker T. Washington founded the black school in Tuskegee, Alabama, 30 miles east of Montgomery.) In 1940, only 125 black pilots had been licensed in the U.S. During World War II, 992 black Army Air Corps pilots would eventually complete flight training at Tuskegee Army Airfield. The first five black aviators to graduate from West Point earned their wings on March 6, 1942. Prominent in the graduating class was Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first black to graduate from West Point in the 20th century who would become the first black general of the United States Air Force