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Tuskegee Airmen (unofficial)
Shield of the 332nd Fighter Group.svg
332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Insignia
Emblems of wing
Active 1940–1948
Country United States
Branch United States Army Air Corps
United States Army Air Forces
United States Air Force
Role Trained for aerial combat
Part of Graduates assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group (99th Fighter Squadron, 100th Fighter Squadron, 301st Fighter Squadron, 302d Fighter Squadron), 477th Medium Bombardment Group (616th Bombardment Squadron, 617th Bombardment Squadron, 618th Bombardment Squadron, 619th Bombardment Squadron)
Nickname(s) Red Tails
Red-Tail Angels
Motto(s) Spit Fire
Engagements World War II

The Tuskegee Airmen was a group of mostly African American military pilots and airmen who fought in World War II. During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws, and the American military was racially segregated.

The pilots trained in Tuskegee, Alabama, and were educated at the Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University). They formed the 332d Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF).

The airmen became known as "Red Tails" because they painted the tails of their planes red. They were excellent pilots and earned many awards for their skill and bravery in battle.



P51 Mustang Red Tail
The P-51C Mustang flown by the Commemorative Air Force in the markings of the 302nd Fighter Squadron as a tribute to Lieutenant Colonel Lee Archer.
Tuskegee Airman P-51 Mustang taken at Airventure
Tuskegee Airman P-51 Mustang taken at Airventure. This particular P-51C is part of the Red Tail Project
Spirit of Tuskegee plane
The Stearman Kaydet training aircraft used by the Tuskegee Airmen, bearing the name Spirit of Tuskegee
Tuskegee airman2
Portrait of Tuskegee airman Edward M. Thomas by photographer Toni Frissell, March 1945

Before the Tuskegee Airmen, no African-American had been a U.S. military pilot. On April 3, 1939, Congress passed the Appropriations Bill Public Law 18, which contained an amendment that said money should be set aside for the training of African-American pilots. The War Department put the money into funds of schools that had Civilian Pilot Training Programs and were willing to train black Americans. One of these schools was the Tuskegee Institute.

Testing was difficult and followed the same standards as other tests for pilots. The U.S. Army Air Corps tested to determine IQ, dexterity, and leadership qualities. They selected only the best pilots, navigators, and bombadiers (those responsible for aiming the bombs from a bomber plane).

When the program at Tuskegee was about five months old, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt inspected it on March 29, 1941. She flew with African-American chief civilian instructor C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson. After landing, she cheerfully announced, "Well, you can fly all right."

Tuskegee Airmen fighter units

The 99th Pursuit Squadron (renamed the 99th Fighter Squadron in May 1942) was formed in 1941, and pilots trained for duty. They were part of the 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons.

By April 1943, the 99th Fighter Squadron was considered ready for combat duty. They flew their first combat mission on June 2, 1943, to help prepare for the Allied invasion of Sicily. By February 1944, the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons had joined them. The 332nd Fighter Group flew missions in Sicily, Anzio, Normandy, the Rhineland, the Po Valley, Rome-Arno, and other areas. Their missions varied from escorting bomber planes to attacking enemy planes, trains, and ships. Pilots of the 99th once set a record for destroying five enemy aircraft in under four minutes. Pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group earned 96 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

A B-25 bomb group, the 477th Bombardment Group, was forming in the U.S. but was not able to complete its training in time to join the fight overseas before the war ended.

War accomplishments

Office of War Information poster
Tuskegee airman poster
War Bonds poster featuring a Tuskegee Airman
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
The Hangar One Museum at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moton Field, Tuskegee, Alabama.

In all, 992 pilots were trained in Tuskegee from 1941 to 1946. 355 were deployed overseas, and 84 lost their lives. The toll included 68 pilots killed in action or accidents, 12 killed in training and non-combat missions and 32 captured as prisoners of war.

The Tuskegee Airmen were credited by higher commands with the following accomplishments:

  • 1578 combat missions, 1267 for the Twelfth Air Force; 311 for the Fifteenth Air Force
  • 179 bomber escort missions, with a good record of protection
  • 112 enemy aircraft destroyed in the air, another 150 on the ground, and 148 damaged
  • 950 rail cars, trucks, and other motor vehicles destroyed (over 600 rail cars)
  • One torpedo boat put out of action
  • 40 boats and barges destroyed

Awards and decorations included:


After segregation in the military was ended in 1948 by President Harry S. Truman with Executive Order 9981, the veteran Tuskegee Airmen found themselves in high demand throughout the newly formed United States Air Force. Some went on to teach in civilian flight schools while others were promoted within the military.

In 1949, the 332nd entered the annual U.S. Continental Gunnery Meet in Las Vegas, Nevada. The competition included shooting aerial and ground targets and dropping bombs on targets. They won first place by scoring perfectly.

In August 2019, 14 documented original surviving members of the Tuskegee Airmen attended the annual Tuskegee Airmen Convention, which is hosted by Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. In recent years, several airmen who have lived 90 to over 100 years old have passed away.

Legacy and honors

On March 29, 2007, President George W. Bush awarded the Tuskegee Airmen a Congressional Gold Medal at a ceremony in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The medal is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution.

The airmen went on to further contribute to society. One was elected as a judge, four were promoted to generals, and others became businessmen and politicians.

The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. Memorials and museums throughout the country honor the Tuskegee Airmen.

A section of State Route 6 in the City of East Point near Atlanta, Georgia, was officially renamed in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen. The road is one of the main roads that leads to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.

In popular culture

Paintings, murals, novels, movies, documentaries, plays, radio shows, and toys have been created that feature the Tuskegee Airmen.

Interesting facts about the Tuskegee Airmen

  • The “Tuskegee Experiment” was expected to fail but was a resounding success.
  • On January 27 and 28, 1944, while protecting Allied ground forces from enemy air attacks, they shot down 13 enemy airplanes.
  • During its combat overseas, the 332nd Fighter Group and its four squadrons shot down a total of 112 enemy airplanes.
  • Benjamin Davis became the first black general in the United States Air Force.
  • Col. Charles McGee, who had served with the 332nd Fighter Group, also served in Korea and Vietnam and flew 409 combat missions – more than any other Air Force pilot in the three wars.
  • C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson earned his pilot's license in 1929 and became the first black American to receive a commercial pilot's certificate in 1932.
  • Nobody called them the “Tuskegee Airmen” during the World War II. The nickname was made up by author Charles E. Francis in the title of his 1955 book, The Tuskegee Airmen: The Men Who Changed a Nation.

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Aviadores de Tuskegee para niños

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