Tuskegee Airmen Mustang

Photo by Brian Silcox

The US Army Air Corp launched the first African-American pilot training program in 1941 in Tuskegee, Alabama. In August of 1942 the Walterboro Army Airfield base was activated to provide final combat training for the Tuskegee Airmen before they were sent into action. These trained pilots and crews went directly to combat in many parts of the world.

The Tuskegee Airmen trained for 3 months, seven days a week from dawn to dusk. After transfer from Tuskegee Army Airfield to Walterboro Army Airfield, these airmen were sent as replacement pilots for the 332nd Fighter Group, an all black fighter group operating in Europe, and the entire 447th Bombardment Group.

In April of 1944, Walterboro Army Airfield stopped training fighter groups and switched to advanced individual air combat training. Over 500 black airmen from the training program at Tuskegee trained at the Walterboro Army Airfield between 1944 and October 1945.

“So many men came to Walterboro as junior pilots and left about four months later to go overseas as well-trained fighter pilots…”  “During their relatively short stay at Walterboro the trainees logged an average of sixty hours in various types of training, including: transition into the fighter aircraft to learn how to make safe takeoffs and landings, formation flying, instrument and night flying, aerial and ground gunnery, aerobatics, and combat tactics.” – Charles Dryden, A-Train

The best training fighter pilots ever got, they got at Walterboro. We put aside the race battles and put out good pilots. We had some of the most sincere people. I didn’t see any sloughing off in training black people for combat.”
– Spann Watson, Red Tails, Black Wings

“I was assigned to the Jug (P-47 Thunderbolt) at Walterboro Army Air Base, where I took advanced combat training. I … sought out the Vought-Corsairs flown by the Marines stationed at Parris Island. They could out-turn me – but I could outmaneuver THEM. That’s where I really learned combat tactics!” Bill Wheller, “Shaking the Jug” 1996.

Black pilots at Walterboro trained on 3 types of planes — the P-39 Air Cobra, the P-40 Kittyhawk and the P-47 Thunderbolt.  Flying the nose-heavy Thunderbolt – “The Jug” – was very dangerous and 5 men lost their lives during routine training.

From 1942 to 1945, 992 pilots completed the Tuskegee Airmen program, over 450 of them saw combat overseas. They flew 1,578 missions.  Among their missions: Rome, Southern France, Central Europe, Tunisia, Japan, China, New Guinea, Western Pacific. Air Combat support was provided from Walterboro for many important defense facilities and cities, such as Santee Cooper Dams, the Parris Island Marine Base, the Navy Yard and Charleston.

Sixty-six of the Tuskegee Airmen were killed in action. Thirty-two were taken prisoner.

Because of their heroic action in combat they were called Schwartz Vogelmenschen, “Black Bird Men”, by the Germans who both feared and respected them. White American bomber crews, in reverence, referred to them as the “Red Tailed Angels,” because of their tail assemblies and because of their reputation for not losing any aircraft to enemy fighters as they provided fighter coverage for missions over strategic targets in Europe. Despite the racism of the time, white bomber crews requested the black pilots as escorts. Time and again the Red Tail Angels watched over them–keeping them safe from their enemies.

View the Air Force Association salute to the Tuskegee Airmen
during the 2009 Annual Air & Space Conference and Technology Exposition.

What to read more about the Tuskegee Airmen?

Try this article by Jim Morekis from Moon South Carolina

 And these links:

CAF Red Tail Squadron

Red Tails Movie

Red Tails Film

Lowcountry Regional Airport
537 Aviation Way
Walterboro, SC 29488
Phone: (843) 549-2549
Fax: (843) 549-1444
Email: acpilot.roger@gmail.com