Chronicles of Courage: Tuskegee Airmen

Air Date: 12/07/2016
Source:
NBC Learn
Creator:
Kate Snow
Air/Publish Date:
12/07/2016
Event Date:
1944
Resource Type:
Science Explainer
Copyright:
NBCUniversal Media, LLC.
Copyright Date:
2016
Clip Length:
00:06:08

With World War II looming, the first African-American pilots are admitted into the U.S. Armed Forces. Fighter pilots Robert Friend and William Holloman fly their North American P-51 Mustangs as they bravely escort bomber planes across enemy lines while still facing social injustice in the military and at home. "Chronicles of Courage: Stories of Wartime and Innovation" is a co-production of Vulcan Productions and NBC Learn.

Chronicles of Courage -- Tuskegee Airmen

KATE SNOW, reporting:

Allied forces are rapidly advancing against Nazi Germany from all sides.  American and British bomber aircraft streak through the skies, determined to decimate the remaining industries fueling Hitler's war machine.  Many of these strategic bombing raids are escorted by a valiant group of African-American fighter pilots.  These World War II heroes quickly earn a reputation for fierce fighting in dangerous conditions and tenacious defense of the bomber aircraft in their care.

WILLIAM HOLLOMAN III (Pilot, U.S. Army Air Forces): Our job in the 15th Air Force was to protect our bombers.  We would protect them against enemy fighters.

ROBERT FRIEND (Pilot, U.S. Army Air Forces): The thing was, get those bombers home.  I don't care what else.  Get the bombers home.

SNOW: Dedicated fighter pilots William Holloman and Robert Friend belong to the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the 'Red Tails' because of the distinctive red paint on the tails of their airplanes.

FRIEND: That was so that the bombers wouldn't have to call and say 'who are you' or what.  He could look out and say 'oh, that's the 332nd' because they had the red tails.

SNOW: The men of the 332nd are among the first African-American pilots admitted into the United States Armed Forces. 

DR. ERIC SHEPPARD (Aerospace Engineer, Hampton University): Prior to their existence, there was a feeling that African-Americans weren't capable of flying aircraft under combat conditions.

SNOW: At the time, many places and organizations in the United States, including the military, deny people of color the same rights and opportunities given to white people.

HOLLOMAN: I didn't like people telling me what I couldn't do.  They didn't want me?  They were going to accept me.  We were determined.

SNOW: In June, 1941, the U.S. Army Air Corps begins training black pilots here, at the new Tuskegee Army Air Field, a racially segregated military facility in Alabama.

FRIEND: When you sign in with the recruiter, if you didn't say you were white, you went to Tuskegee.

SNOW: After their training at Tuskegee, Holloman, Friend, and other airmen of the 332nd eventually are stationed in Italy, at Ramitelli Airfield - a captured enemy base now used by the United States.

SHEPPARD: When they moved to Italy in Ramitelli, that's when, eventually, they picked up their assignment that they're best known for, which is bomber support. 

SNOW: For the long bomber escort missions against Germany, the Allies need a fighter plane with long-range capabilities.  There is one clear winner - the North American P-51 Mustang.  A fighter plane with high power and maneuverability in combat, the P-51 can fly hundreds of miles farther than other Allied fighters. 

FRIEND: The P-51 had much more range.  When we were flying the P-51, the missions were lasting like seven hours.

SNOW: The Allies need the P-51s to go deep into Germany, and to accomplish this, engineers utilize an innovative external fuel tank that attaches under the wings, nearly doubling the available fuel. 

NEWSREEL: America, land of abundance, learns to mobilize its waste, to save its scrap, to provide more metals for war.

SNOW: Wartime metal shortages inspire engineers to create these tanks using a waterproof chemical compound of paper and glue.  The glue-infused paper is shaped over forms, assembled, and coated with a fuel-resistant lacquer and aluminum paint to make them sturdy, yet disposable.  When the fuel is used up, pilots can drop the empty tanks, improving the plane's aerodynamics.  These resourceful drop tanks allow Holloman, Friend and the other P-51 pilots to gain as many as 900 additional miles of flight - more than enough for their missions across Europe.

SHEPPARD:

The P-51 really was the only American fighter that was able to fly with the U.S. bombers all the way to Berlin for the missions that really hit at the heart of Germany.

SNOW: The Red Tails bravely fly nearly 1500 missions, most in the P-51s.  They protect bombers with such heroism and gallantry that they're given the Distinguished Unit Citation.  But even with such honors, they still face social injustices in the military and at home.

HOLLOMAN: I think that in some ways, segregation, racism made us a stronger group.  We realized we were trying to prove something - that we could do the job, and we were committed to that.

SNOW: Later known as the Tuskegee Airmen, these courageous African-American pilots break down stereotypes and pave the way for racial integration in the United States military, and their victories in the skies over Europe help bring an end to Hitler's power.

FRIEND: I'm proud of myself at being there and proud of all the fellas that I served with.

Close NBC Learn

Choose your product

NBC Learn K-12 product site
NBC Learn Higher Ed product site

For NBC Learn in Learning Management Systems please log in to your institution's Learning Management System web site and click "Browse NBC Learn".
For further assistance, please contact our NBC Learn Support Team and we'll be happy to assist you.

Start Your Free
day
Day Trial!
Close NBC Learn

FILTERING

If you are trying to view the videos from inside a school or university, your IT admin may need to enable streaming on your network. Please see the Internet Filtering section of our Technical Requirements page.

DVDs AND OTHER COPIES

Videos on this page are not available on DVD at this time due to licensing restrictions on the footage.

DOWNLOADING VIDEOS

Subscribers to NBC Learn may download videos and play them back without an internet connection. Please click here to find out more about subscribing or to sign up for a FREE trial (download not included in free trial).

Still have questions?
Click here to send us an email.

Close NBC Learn

INTERNATIONAL VISITORS

The Science of the Olympic Winter Games videos are only available to visitors inside the United States due to licensing restrictions on the Olympics footage used in the videos.

FILTERING

If you are trying to view the videos from inside a school or university, your IT admin may need to enable streaming on your network. Please see the Internet Filtering section of our Technical Requirements page.

DVDs AND OTHER COPIES

The Science of the Olympic Winter Games is not available on DVD at this time due to licensing restrictions on on Olympic footage.

DOWNLOADING VIDEOS

Subscribers to NBC Learn may download videos and play them back without an internet connection. Please click here to find out more about subscribing or to sign up for a FREE trial (download not included in free trial).

Still have questions?
Click here to send us an email.

Close NBC Learn

Choose your product

NBC Learn K-12 product site
NBC Learn Higher Ed product site

For NBC Learn in Blackboard™ please log in to your institution's Blackboard™ web site and click "Browse NBC Learn"

Close NBC Learn

If you have received a new user registration code from your institution, click your product below and use the "Register now" link to sign up for a personal account.

NBC Learn K-12 product site
NBC Learn Higher Ed product site

For further assistance, please contact our NBC Learn Support Team and we'll be happy to assist you.

Start Your Free
day
Day Trial!