Red Tails (Tuskegee Airmen)

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The Tuskegee Airmen were the first black military aviators in the U.S. Army Air Corps (AAC), a precursor of the U.S. Air Force. Trained at the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama, they flew more than 15,000 individual sorties in Europe and North Africa during World War II. Their impressive performance earned them more than 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and helped encourage the eventual integration of the U.S. armed forces.

But young African Americans who aspired to become pilots met with significant obstacles, starting with the widespread (racist) belief that black people could not learn to fly or operate sophisticated aircraft. In 1938, with Europe teetering on the brink of another great war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced he would expand the civilian pilot training program in the United States. In September 1940, Roosevelt’s White House responded to such lobbying campaigns by announcing that the AAC would soon begin training black pilots. For the training site, the War Department chose the Tuskegee Army Air Field in Tuskegee, Alabama, then under construction. Home to the prestigious Tuskegee Institute, founded by Booker T. Washington, it was located in the heart of the Jim Crow South.

The pilots of the 332nd began flying P-51 Mustangs to escort the heavy bombers of the 15th Air Force during raids deep into enemy territory. The tails of their planes were painted red for identification purposes, earning them the enduring nickname “Red Tails.” Though these were the best-known of the Tuskegee Airmen, black aviators also served on bomber crews in the 477th Bombardment Group, formed in 1944.

-Text sourced from “Tuskegee Airmen” at History.com