The People

Meet the Airmen

Explore the remarkable stories of the men and women who made up the "Tuskegee Experience".


In March 1942, five of the 13 cadets in the first class completed the Army Air Corps pilot training program, earning their silver wings and becoming the nation’s first Black military pilots. 

They were Second Lieutenants Lemuel R. Curtis, Charles DeBow, Mac Ross, George Spencer Roberts, and Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., a West Point Academy graduate.

Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. later became leader of the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II and the first Black to earn the rank of General in the U.S. Air Force. While Col. “B. O.” Davis was the most famous of the 99th Fighter Squadron commanders, he was not the first. He was preceded by George S. Roberts, who was the first Black commander of that unit and, for that matter, of any Black flying unit.

Of the pilots who trained at TAAF, 355 served overseas with the 99th, 100th, 301st or 302nd Fighter Squadrons or the 332nd Fighter Group.  The 332nd Fighter Group was officially activated on October 13, 1942, at TAAF. The Group was comprised of the 100th Fighter Squadron, the 301st Fighter Squadron, and the 302nd Fighter Squadron.

Between 1944 and 1945, dozens of Black officers served as commanders of the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons. A more complete listing of those individuals, the units and time frames in which they served can be found throughout the TAI website.

In addition to training fighter pilots, Tuskegee graduated a group of twin-engine pilots. They were assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group and flew the B-25 Mitchell bomber, a twin-engine, medium bomber. The Group was activated with four bombardment squadrons; the 616th, 617th, 618th, and 619th. However, the war against Japan ended before the 477th Group could be deployed overseas.

On June 21, 1945, Col. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. assumed command of the 477th Bombardment Group. The 477th Bombardment Group became the 477th Composite Group when the 99th Fighter Squadron was assigned to it that summer, making it a composite of both fighter and bombardment squadrons. In March 1946, the unit relocated to Lockbourne Army Air Base in Ohio.  When the 477th was inactivated in 1947, the inactive 332nd Fighter Group—later known as the 332nd Fighter Wing, was activated at the same base.

Throughout their training at Tuskegee, no training standards were lowered for pilots or any of the others in the fields of meteorology, intelligence, engineering, medicine, and other support positions

From 1941 to 1946, approximately 1,000 pilots graduated from TAAF, receiving their commissions and pilot wings. The black navigators, bombardiers, and gunnery crews were trained at other selected military bases elsewhere in the U.S. Mechanics were initially trained at Chanute Air Base in Rantoul, IL, until facilities were in place at TAAF in 1942. 

“Tuskegee Airmen” include men and women who were involved in the “Tuskegee Military Experiment” from 1941 to 1946. The “experiment” is now referred to as the “Tuskegee Experience” by Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. 

The Tuskegee Airmen "Experience" extends to 1949 and includes all individuals, men and women, Blacks and Whites who supported aircraft in the air and on the ground...

The Tuskegee Airmen “Experience” extends to 1949 and includes all individuals, men and women, Blacks and Whites who supported aircraft in the air and on the ground as bombardiers, maintenance and support staff, instructors, and all other personnel at TAAF and other designated units or locations until inactivation of the 332nd Fighter Wing at Lockbourne Army Air Base (later designated Lockbourne Air Force Base).  

When the 332nd Fighter Wing and its group and squadrons were inactivated in 1949, their personnel were assigned to other, formerly all-White, units. This resulted in desegregation of the Air Force.

The term “Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen” or “DOTA” was adopted by TAI and includes vetted personnel who trained or were stationed at TAAF and other designated units or locations during the period from 1941 to 1949.


Civilian pilot training in the Tuskegee area began in January 1941. The first Black flying unit, originally called the 99th Pursuit Squadron (now known as the 99th Flying Training Squadron), was first activated on March 22, 1941. It was designed to be a flying unit even though it did not initially have any pilots. In other words, one might say that there were no “Tuskegee Airmen” before 1941.

TAAF Pilot Graduate Breakdown.

1942    63 American SE Graduates.

1943    197 American SE Graduates.

1943    2 Haitian SE Graduates.

1943    24 American TE Graduates.

1943    51 American Liaison Pilot Graduates.

Total  274


1944    230 American SE Graduates.

1944    1 Haitian SE Graduate.

1944    111 American TE Graduates.

1944    2 Haitian TE Graduates.

1944    4 American Service Pilot Graduates.

Total    348


1945    161 American SE Graduates.

1945    102 American TE Graduates.

1945    7 American Service Pilot Graduates.

Total   270

1946    22 American SE Graduates.

1946    15 American TE Graduates.

Total    37


Totals by Year

1942    63

1943    274

1944    348

1945    270

1946    37

Total    992




63 Graduates


274 Graduates


348 Graduates


270 Graduates


37 Graduates


992 Graduates

  • The Tuskegee Airmen flew more than 1,200 missions for the 99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons under the Twelfth Air Force.
  • The 332nd Fighter Group flew at least 312 missions for the Fifteenth Air Force between early June 1944 and May 1945. When the pilots of the 332nd Fighter Group painted the tails of their P-47s and later, P-51s, red, the nickname “Red Tails” was coined. Bomber crews applied a more effusive “Red-Tail Angels.”
  • The 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group had a total of 112 aerial victories during World War II.  
  • Ninety-six (96) Distinguished Flying Crosses were awarded to members of the 332nd Fighter Group or its squadrons.
  • The 332nd Fighter Group shot down enemy aircraft on 21 missions for the Fifteenth Air Force.
  • The Tuskegee Airmen flew four different types of aircraft in combat; the P-40, P-39, P-47, and P-51. 
  • Four Tuskegee Airmen earned three aerial victory credits in one day; Joseph Elsberry, Clarence Lester, Lee Archer, and Harry Stewart.
  • Four is the highest number of aerial victory credits scored by a Tuskegee Airman.  Three Tuskegee Airmen earned that number of aerial victories (Lee Archer, Joseph Elsberry, and Edward Toppins)
  • The 99th Fighter Squadron earned three Distinguished Unit Citations, and the 332nd Fighter Group earned one. The 99th Fighter Squadron earned two Distinguished Unit Citations before it was assigned to the 332nd Fighter Group.


  • The “Tuskegee Military Experiment,” now referred to by TAI as the “Tuskegee Experience,” was conducted by the U.S. War Department and the Army Air Corps from 1941 to 1946. (NOTE: The “Tuskegee Experience” should not be confused with the “Tuskegee Syphilis-Experiment” that was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) from 1932 to 1972. Both events occurred in Tuskegee, AL, but at different locations).
  • Kennedy Field is where civilian pilot training began in the Tuskegee area in January 1941. It was located approximately 5 miles south of Tuskegee and predated both Moton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field.

In April 1941, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt traveled to Kennedy Field, where she asked to fly with Black pilot Charles A. “Chief” Anderson - Tuskegee Institute’s chief instructor pilot and the first black pilot instructor at Tuskegee. The First Lady’s flight catapulted the training at Tuskegee to the forefront.

  • On August 3, 1944, twelve black officers led by Captain Willard B. Ransom entered the west dining room of the Tuskegee Army Air Field Post Exchange restaurant, which had been reserved for white officers, and demanded service. When 2nd Lt. George D Frye, Assistant Exchange Officer, asked the Black officers to go to the larger east dining room reserved for them, Captain Ransom showed Frye two War Department letters that noted service at base recreational facilities and post exchanges would not be denied any personnel because of race. With Col. Noel Parrish’s support, Lt. Frye agreed to let the Black officers be served in the west dining room, effectively integrating the restaurant without violence. Many White officers stopped eating at the facility. The elimination rate for Black cadets increased. Some White officers asked for transfers, and within two months, Tuskegee Army Air Field received its first Black flight instructors. Col. Parrish assured the White leadership of nearby towns that integration of the base facilities would not affect areas outside the base. Parrish’s handling of the integration crisis at Tuskegee Army Air Field contrasted sharply with the later Freeman Field Mutiny of April 1945. (For history of Tuskegee Army Air Field, 1 July to 31 August 1944, pp. 12-15, call number 289.28-5 at the Air Force Historical Research Agency).
  • In April 1945, members of the 477th Bombardment Group at Freeman Field Airport near Seymour, Indiana, were arrested for trying to desegregate an all-white officers club. The incident resulted in the arrest of 104 Black officers, some of them twice. Three were court-martialed on relatively minor charges and one was convicted. This is referred to as the Freeman Field Mutiny.
  • In August 1995, fifteen (15) Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen officers who were assigned to the 477th Bombardment Group at Freeman Army Airfield in Indiana received official notification during the 1995 TAI convention in Atlanta that the military records of all those involved in the incident at Freeman Field were cleared of any reference to the Freeman Field Mutiny. 
  • At the 1949 US Air Force Gunnery Meet in Las Vegas, Nevada, the 332d Fighter Group team won top honors in the conventional aircraft division.  The victors were Capt. Alva N. Temple, Lt. James H. Harvey, III, Lt. Harry T. Stewart, Jr. and Lt. Halbert Alexander.
  • The pilot training at TAAF ended on June 29, 1946, and the base closed on June 12, 1947. The all-Black 332nd Fighter Wing, the 332nd Fighter Group assigned to it, and the 99th, 100th, and 301st Fighter Squadrons, were all inactivated on July 1, 1949. These were the only Black flying units in the USAF at the time. When they were inactivated, their personnel were reassigned to formerly all-White units. They were later re-activated, but not as Black organizations. (The 302nd Fighter Squadron had already been inactivated in March 1945.) The reassignment of the personnel of the all-Black flying organizations to formerly all-White flying organizations was the most important step toward racial integration in the USAF. 
  • On March 29, 2007, during a ceremony inside the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol, President George W. Bush announced the award by Congress of the Congressional Gold Medal* to the Tuskegee Airmen as a group. The ceremony was attended by 300 representatives of the 16,000 to 19,000 men and women who were part of the “Tuskegee Experience” of World War II. Among those in attendance were Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTAs). 
  • The National Aviation Hall of Fame enshrined two Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen; Col Charles McGee (2011) and Charles “Chief” Alfred Anderson (2013).