Last updated: January 12, 2018
- Tuskegee, AL
- Home to the military's first African-American pilots
- National Historical Site
- OPEN TO PUBLIC:
Once Orville and Wilbur Wright took to the skies at the beginning of the twentieth century, Americans of all races and backgrounds were eager to fly. To capitalize on that interest and to ensure that the country would have a sufficient number of pilots should a national emergency arise, the U.S. Government’s Civilian Pilot Training Program was created in the 1930's. African Americans were admitted to these programs, though they were trained in segregated facilities. With the outbreak of war in December 1941, the government found that it needed every pilot it could train.
The "Tuskegee Experience"
Tuskegee Institute already had a pilot training program for its students, so despite segregation in the military generally, African Americans were prepared as pilots and support staff. By the time the military integrated these servicemen and servicewomen in 1949, more than 16,000 men and women would participate in the "Tuskegee Experience,” as the government referred to it. The final trainings of African American pilots would be in July of 1946 when Morton Field and Tuskegee Army Air Field closed.1 On July 1st, 1949, the last of the all-African American flight squadrons, the 332nd Fighter Wing, ceased operations as the military began desegregation. This brought the "Tuskegee Experience" to an official end.2 In all, nearly 1,000 men would graduate as pilots during the "Tuskegee Experience." One of the first graduates of the pilot training program was then-Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. who was part of the March 7th, 1942 class. He would go on to a very distinguished military career in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force, culminating in his becoming the first African American general in the U.S. Air Force in 1954. (Davis, Jr's father, Benjamin O. Davis, Sr., became the first African American general in the U.S. Army in 1940). All tolled, the Tuskegee Airmen would compile 1,578 total missions, 15,533 combat sorties and 112 aerial kills during the War.3
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site
The outstanding performance of the men and women who shared the "Tuskegee Experience" from 1941 to 1949 is immortalized at the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site. The Hanger 1 Museum is open daily and includes an orientation room, museum area, and small bookstore. A four minute video explains the role of Morton Field in the training of the Tuskegee Airmen and given an overview of the programs that took place there. Fly ins on both Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends feature historic aircraft and special programs. Visit the park's Calendar page to view upcoming events in the searchable calendar.
1-3 Source: "Tuskegee Experience" compiled by The Tuskegee Institute, https://www.tuskegee.edu/Content/Uploads/Tuskegee/files/TuskegeeExperience(1).pdf