Celebrating African Americans in Aviation
C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson
Fondly known as the "Father of Black Aviation", Charles Anderson was born in 1907 in Bridgeport, Pennsylvania. He attended Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, the Chicago School of Aeronautics, and the Boston School of Aeronautics. At age 22 he was able to borrow money from family and friends so that he could purchase a used airplane, and then taught himself to fly. By 1929 he had earned his private pilot's license and in 1932, an Air Transport Rating.
In 1933, he and his flying partner, Dr. Albert Foresythe, became the first black pilots to complete a round-trip transcontinental flight from Atlantic City to Los Angeles. In 1934, the duo would also make a Pan-American Goodwill Flight from Miami to Nassau in an effort to promote interracial harmony and to demonstrate the growing skills of black pilots.
In 1939, Chief Anderson went on to instruct numerous pilots in the Tuskegee Institute as head of the Civilian Pilot Training (CPT) program, becoming the first black pilot to be employed by the school. A visit by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt in 1941, during which she requested Anderson to take her for a plane ride, was said to be the catalyst that led to the training of the first African American military pilots, the "Tuskegee Experiment". The successful CPT program under Anderson's leadership was a major factor in the Army Air Corps decision to establish a primary training program at Tuskegee. As chief flight instructor at Tuskegee, he supervised primary flight training for 1,000 African-American pilots at Moton Field. He went on to serve as the Director of the Negro Airmen International (NAI) Summer Flying Camp at Tuskegee University and also to teach ROTC cadets. He trained countless individuals how to fly and his love of flying in represented through his nearly 52,000 amassed flying hours.
Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.
Benjamin O. Davis was born December 18, 1912 in Washington D.C. After a flight with a barnstorming pilot at the age of 14, Davis had gained a fascination with flying and with becoming a pilot himself. In 1932 he entered the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York, sponsored by the only black member of Congress at the time, Representative Oscar De Priest of Illinois. During his time at West Point, Davis was shunned by his classmates, who never spoke to him, and he never had a roommate. Still determined, he graduated in 1936 ranked 35th in a class of 276, becoming only the fourth black graduate. When he was commissioned as a second lieutenant, the Army had a grand total of two black line officers - Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr.
Early in 1941 in response to the growing demand for integration within the U.S. Army Air Corps, Captain Davis was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field. He was one of five black officers to complete the course, and earned his wings in 1942. He was the first black officer to solo an Army Air Corps aircraft and was named commander of the first all-black air unit, the 99th Pursuit Squadron, after being promoted to lieutenant colonel in July of 1942. In 1943 he left the 99th squadron and was put in command of the 332nd fighter group, a larger all-black unit.
In July 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed an executive order ordering the racial integration of the armed forces. Colonel Davis helped draft the Air Force plan for implementing this order. The Air Force was the first of the services to integrate fully. In 1954 Davis became the first black general in the U.S. Air Force and over the next two decades, served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts. At the time of Davis's retirement in 1970, he held the rank of Lieutenant General, but in 1998 President Bill Clinton awarded him a fourth star, raising him to the rank of a retired full general.
The Tuskegee program began officially in June 1941 with the 99th Pursuit Squadron at the Tuskegee Institute. The unit would consist of 47 officers and 429 enlisted men, and would be backed by an entire service arm. After basic training at Moton Field, they were moved to the nearby Tuskegee Army Air Field for conversion training onto operational types. Consequently, Tuskegee became the only Army installation containing all four phases of pilot training at a single location. The first five black cadets to be commissioned as pilots of the Army Air Forces were graduated at the Tuskegee Army Air Field program in 1942.
The 99th was finally considered ready for combat duty by April 1943 and shipped out of Tuskegee on April 2, bound for North Africa where it would join the 33rd Fighter Group. Given little guidance from battle-experienced pilots, the 99th's first combat mission was to attack the small strategic volcanic island of Pantelleria in the Mediterranean Sea, to clear the sea lanes for the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. The air assault on the island began on 30 May 1943. The Italian population of 11,500 surrendered on 11 June: it was the first time in history an enemy's military resistance had been overcome solely by air power.
By the spring of 1944 more graduates were ready for combat, and the all-black 332nd Fighter Group had been sent overseas with three fighter squadrons: The 100th, 301st and 302nd. Under the command of Colonel Davis the squadrons were moved to mainland Italy, where the 99th Fighter Squadron, assigned to the group on 1 May 1944, joined them on 6 June at Ramitelli Airfield, near Termoli, on the Adriatic coast.
Flying escort for heavy bombers, the 332nd earned an impressive combat record. The Allies called these airmen "Red Tails" or "Red-Tail Angels," because of the distinctive crimson paint predominately applied on the tail section of the unit's aircraft. From 1941 through 1946, nine hundred and ninety-six pilots graduated at TAAF, receiving commissions and pilot wings. Black navigators, bombardiers and gunnery crews were trained at selected military bases elsewhere in the United States.
Marcella A. Hayes
Marcella A. Hayes was born in 1956 and is a native of Centralia, Missouri. Hayes became interested in flying when her ROTC company commander, an aviator, talked to her about aviation while at the University of Wisconsin in the 1970s. She graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in English in 1978, but her interest in flight lured her to the military instead of towards the career path of doctor.
Hayes endured what Army officials say is "some of the toughest training the Army offers." Even with a skeptical instrument instructor, Hayes pulled through becoming only the 55th woman of the 48,000 officers and warrant officers to graduate from the Army Aviation School, and the very first black woman pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces. Hayes completed Army helicopter flight training at the U.S. Army Aviation Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama and earned the respect of her instructor, who considered her intelligent, dedicated, and a hard worker.