996 men completed the Tuskegee flight training program and earned their wings. 355 of them were sent to fly and fight in North Africa and Europe as fighter pilots. The others were trained as bomber pilots, but the war ended before they could be deployed to the Pacific theater. Of those who went into battle, 80 gave their lives and 31 became prisoners of war.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was the first FS activated as part of the Tuskegee program. As pilots graduated from the Tuskegee program, they would be assigned to three other Fighter Squadrons as well: the 100th, 301st, and 302nd. These four Fighter Squadrons would become part of the 332nd Fighter Group. Like all Fighter Groups, the Tuskegee-trained pilots of the 332nd flew fighter aircraft with distinctive paint schemes to assist with identifying friend from foe. The 332nd’s identifying marking was bright red tails on their fighters.
The 99th Fighter Squadron was sent to North Africa in April 1943 for combat duty. The transition from training to actual combat wasn’t always smooth given the racial policies within the military as well as the personal prejudices of many enlisted personnel and line officers. However, the Airmen overcame the obstacles posed by segregation through hard work and commitment to their role as military aviators. After a few months in North Africa, the 99th was ordered to support the Allies’ campaigns in Italy and later, Germany. The other three Fighter Squadrons of the 332nd soon joined them.
Although the Airmen always flew courageously and well, it was as bomber escorts on missions deep into Germany and its neighbors that they really made a name for themselves. Soon their reputation for staying with the bombers they were assigned to protect spread. It wasn’t long before the white bomber pilots were requesting the Tuskegee-trained “Red Tail Angels” to fly escort for them.
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The pilots of the 332nd flew a number of different fighter aircraft, but they are most closely associated with the fast and powerful P-51 Mustang.