Fly Boys: Western Pennsylvania's Tuskegee Airmen tells the story of struggle and the ultimate triumph of the brave African-American soldiers who served their country during World War II.
The film chronicles the "Tuskegee Airmen" program, a controversial military initiative designed to measure African-Americans' competence for flying the engines of war. This fascinating documentary features the stories of the more than 40 aviators from western Pennsylvania, including the pilots, navigators and bombardiers who flew fighter and bomber planes during the war, as well as the maintenance and support staff, instructors and personnel who kept the planes in the air.
Rhode Island PBS airs Fly Boys: Western Pennsylvania's Tuskegee Airmen on Monday, February 8, 2016 at 10 p.m. Click for a video preview.
From the University of Pittsburgh Web site:
The documentary takes viewers back to early 1941, during the Jim Crow "separate but equal" days prior to America's entry in World War II, when the Roosevelt Administration established an all-Black flight training program at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama. Tuskegee was a logical location for the pioneering venture, because it had previously started its own civilian pilot training program under the direction of Charles Alfred "Chief" Anderson (1907-1996), a native of Bryn Mawr, Pa., who was known as the father of Black aviation: He was the first African American to earn a commercial pilot's license; he and Albert E. Forsythe made the first round-trip transcontinental flight by Black pilots, flying from Atlantic City to Los Angeles and back without the aid of landing lights, parachutes, radios, or blind-flying instruments; and he would train the Tuskegee Airmen.
Because studies commissioned earlier by the Army War College concluded that Blacks were unfit for military leadership roles and incapable of piloting aircraft, the Tuskegee Airmen training program went forward on the assumption by the military establishment that the experiment would prove African Americans incapable of operating complex combat planes.
But Eleanor Roosevelt knew better. On April 19, 1941, the First Lady visited Tuskegee Army Air Field and, against the advice of the Secret Service, asked Charles Anderson to take her up in a plane. That flight over Alabama lasted more than an hour and proved to Mrs. Roosevelt that Blacks could indeed fly aircraft. She had a photograph of herself taken with Anderson, showed it to FDR, and became a staunch champion of the Tuskegee Airmen, who distinguished themselves as the best escort plane service in the U.S. military during World War II, ensuring that bombing missions in North Africa and Europe succeeded. It was not for nothing that the Germans, who called the Airmen "Black Birdmen," avoided the Tuskegee pilots with their distinctive red-tailed aircraft whenever possible.
Between 1941 and 1946, more than 2,000 African Americans completed training at Tuskegee, nearly 1,000 of them qualifying as pilots and the rest trained to fill positions of navigators, mechanics, radio repairmen, armament specialists, parachute riggers, control tower operators, and all other specializations required to comprise a fully functional Air Corps unit.
Although White pilots were not allowed to fly more than 52 missions, the Tuskegee Airmen often flew up to 100 missions because of lack of replacements. By the end of World War II, the 332nd Fighter Group of Tuskegee Airmen-which would become the largest fighter unit in the 15th Air Force-was made up of the original 99th Pursuit Squadron as well as the 101st and 103rd Pursuit Squadrons. The 332nd had flown 15,553 combat sorties on 1,578 missions and racked up 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, eight Purple Hearts, 14 Bronze Stars, and three Distinguished Unit Citations. And the airmen would go on to pursue stellar careers in an array of fields, from law and medicine to engineering, dentistry, pharmacy, education, the military, and politics.