This week the movie Red Tails debuts in American theaters. The film depicts, in true Hollywood style, the exploits of the Tuskegee Airmen who flew in the 332nd Fighter Group during World War II. But as Defense Media Network editor Steven Hoarn writes, while the film is definitely worth seeing, the real history of these pioneering African-American airmen is in many ways better than the movie. So here we present a few images of the real people who flew and fought both on the home front and against the Axis.
Tuskegee Airmen | Photos
The real-life Red Tails
First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt supported the Civilian Pilot Training Program and the War Training Service. She is pictured here in a Piper J-3 Cub trainer with Tuskegee Airman C. Alfred "Chief" Anderson. Roosevelt's inspection in March 1941 resulted in a much needed boost for the fledgling program. Upon landing she reportedly told Anderson, "Well, you can fly all right." U.S. Air Force photo Maj. James A. Ellison returns the salute of Lt. Mac Ross as he passes down the line during review of the first class of Tuskegee cadets at the U.S. Army Air Corps basic and advanced flying school, Tuskegee, Ala., 1941. Ross, one of the first five Tuskegee Airmen to receive his wings, was the first commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron. He was killed in action during the war. The aircraft are Vultee BT-13 trainers. U.S. Air Force photo Tuskegee Airmen made it to the fight in the spring of 1943. They first flew P-40 Warhawks like the one shown here. U.S. Air Force photo 332nd Fighter Group Commanding Officer Col. Benjamin O. Davis, left, and Edward C. Gleed, the Group Operations Officer, wearing flight gear, watch the skies above the airfield at Ramitelli, Italy. The P-51D in the background, "Creamer's Dream," was generally flown by Charles L. White. Library of Congress photo Pilots from the 332nd Fighter Group are briefed on what to expect as they head north from Italy. The briefer is Lt. (later Col.) Edward Gleed. U.S. Air Force photo Capt. Charles B. Hall, the first Tuskegee Airmen to shoot down an enemy plane, is congratulated by Maj. Gen. John Kenneth Cannon. U.S. Air Force photo "Sunny Italy." Tuskegee Airmen leave the Quonset hut where they have geared up and negotiate the mud on the airfield at Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945. Library of Congress photo Many of the Tuskegee Airmen went on to serve in the 332nd Fighter Group. The distinctive crimson-colored tail surfaces of their aircraft, like the P-51D shown here, resulted in the nickname "Red Tails." U.S. Air Force photo An armorer loads ammunition for a 332nd Fighter Group P-51’s 50-caliber machine guns. The maintainers of the group played an unsung role in the success of the Tuskegee Airmen. U.S. Air Force photo Tuskegee Airmen with the elite all-African-American 332nd Fighter Group pose with one of the group's P-51 Mustangs at their base at Ramitelli, Italy. From left: Lt. Dempsey W. Morgan, Lt. Carrol S. Woods, Lt. Robert H. Nelson Jr., Capt. Andrew D. Turner and Lt. Clarence D. Lester. U.S. Air Force photo 332nd Fighter Group pilots discuss combat flying. Their P-51 Mustangs, like the one here, were well-suited to long bomber escort missions. U.S. Air Force photo Mustangs of the 332nd Fighter Group pass over the airfield at Ramitelli, Italy, in March 1945. Library of Congress photo The orderly room staff of the 99th Fighter Squadron look skyward for returning P-51 Mustangs. U.S. Air Force photo Maj. George S. "Spanky" Roberts at the controls of a P-51B Mustang. Roberts was the first African-American accepted for U.S. Army pilot training. He later commanded the 99th Fighter Squadron and the 332nd Fighter Group. U.S. Air Force photo The 477th Medium Bombardment Group trained to fly B-25 Mitchell bombers, but the war ended before they saw action. Although the Tuskegee Airmen of the 477th didn't see combat, their attempt to integrate an all-white officer's club at Freeman Army Airfield, Ind., is generally considered an important step toward the integration of the armed forces. U.S. Air Force photo