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Celebrating the Proud Legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen

Celebrating the Proud Legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen

Aviation icon Brigadier General Charles McGee took his final flight in January. General McGee’s death, at the age of 102, marks the passing of one of the last of the Tuskegee Airmen, the legendary group of African American pilots who fought the Axis powers overseas and discrimination at home during World War II.

General McGee, who flew 409 combat missions in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam War, enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1942, earned his pilot’s wings a year later and was soon assigned to the Tuskegee Airmen. There, he became part of the proud history forged by an elite group of Black pilots, navigators, bombardiers, crew chiefs and support staff who played a critical role in the Allied victory.

At a time when the U.S. armed forces where racially segregated, the “Tuskegee Experience” attracted qualified men and women looking to develop their aviation skills and serve their country. The first aviation class of 13 cadets began in July 1941 with ground-school training covering subjects such as meteorology, navigation and instruments. Five cadets successfully completed training at Tuskegee Army Airfield (TAAF) and became the nation’s first Black military pilots.

Among them was Capt. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Point graduate who would go on to command the famous all-Black 99th Fighter Squadron and 332nd Fighter Group, which escorted bombers on air combat missions throughout Europe during the war. He also became the Air Force’s first African American brigadier general in 1954, following in the footsteps of his father who was the Army’s first Black general officer.

Tuskegee Airman Dr. Harold Brown shares his experience with employees at the Honeywell-managed Kansas City National Security Campus in 1997. Dr. Brown was shot down and taken prisoner while on an escort mission over Europe in World War II. He is one of the last surviving Tuskegee Airmen. 

From 1941 to 1946, 922 pilots graduated from TAAF, receiving their commissions and pilot wings. Many served with distinction in all-Black squadrons deployed across the European Theater while others stayed back to train the next wave of African American aviators.

The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first Black flying squadron and the first to deploy overseas, when it was assigned to North Africa in April 1943. In all the Tuskegee Airmen flew 1,491 combat missions during World War II in fighters like the celebrated P-51 Mustang, P-40 Warhawk and P-47 Thunderbolt. The Tuskegee Airmen’s aircraft had distinctive crimson paint markings on the vertical stabilizers that led to the nickname, "The Red Tails."

With their rigorous training and extensive combat-flying experience, the Red Tails were acknowledged by many to be among the best pilots in the Army Air Force. While they continued to fight racism in and out of the military in the post-war years, their exceptional combat record did much to quiet the critics, especially those who encountered the Black airmen first-hand.

In fact, once the military was desegregated by President Truman in 1948, Tuskegee-trained pilots were actively sought by squadrons in the integrated U.S. Air Force, which was formed a year earlier. Many Tuskegee-trained airmen went on to distinguished military careers – like Daniel “Chappie” James, the nation’s first Black four-star general – while others found success in business, publishing, law and other professions, after returning to civilian life.

In 2007, the Tuskegee Airmen were collectively awarded a Congressional Gold Medal. The airfield where the airmen trained is now the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site.

Visit the Tuskegee Airmen Inc. website to learn more about the history and legacy of these aviation pioneers. 

Kailey Loud
Customer Marketing Specialist
Kailey Loud is the customer success Lead for Honeywell Aerospace.


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