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The Tuskegee Airmen

L to R Bomber Pilots Lts. R. Highbaugh, Sam Lynn, Daniel "Chappie James, Harvey Pinkney, and Capt Fitzroy Newsum


Tuskegee Airmen ( A Brief History

The Tuskegee Flyers

Tuskegge Airmen of World War II

The Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen



    From 1932 to the beginning of World War II in 1941, nine African Americans had earned Commercial Pilots Certificates from the Civil Aeronautics Administration (predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration). During this period, there also were 102 licensed private pilots and 160 licensed solo student pilots. In 1939, two of those pilots, Chauncey E. Spencer and Dale White, were sanctioned by the National Airmen's Association of America.(1) With the encouragement of Senator Everett M. Dirkson and governor Dwight Green of Illinois, they planned a cross country flight from Chicago to Washington, D.C. The flight's purpose was a publicity appeal to the United States Government for African Americans to be included in government financed aviation programs. On May 9, 1939 using their own money and a $1,000 donation from an African American family in Chicago, the two pilots rented an ancient Lincoln-Paige biplane which they flew from Harlem airport in Oaklawn, Illinois. Three hours after takeoff, with a broken crankshaft, they were forced to land in a farmers backyard in Sherwood, Ohio. Two and a half days later the flight was resumed; however, they were grounded in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for landing at night without lights behind a commercial airliner at the Allegheny Airport. Following this and other delays, Robert L Vann, the publisher of the Pittsburgh Courier, a Black owned newspaper, upon hearing of their misfortunes, gave them $500 and letters of introduction to influential Congressional representatives in Washington. After finally arriving in Washington, D.C. and conferring with officials who promised support, Senator Harry S. Truman, of Missouri remarked to Spencer and White, "If you guys had the guts to fly this thing to Washington, I've got the guts enough to see you get what you are asking." Faithfully keeping his word, senator Truman influenced President Franklin D. Roosevelt and others. Later in 1939, through Congressional action, African Americans became eligible to enter civilian flight training because of two laws (the Civil Pilot Training Act Program and Public Law 18) which were partially based on the "Separate But Equal" policy.

    $1,091,000 was initially appropriated for the construction of Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, were pilots were to receive basic and advanced training. On July 19,1941 a new era in African American history had begun when the first flying cadets were inducted, and began training for what would later be known as "Tuskegee Airmen." In all, a total of $4,000,000 would be appropriated for the training of the Tuskegee Airmen between 1941 and the war's end in 1945.

    During the World War II era, African American airmen damaged or destroyed 409 enemy aircraft, boats, barges, locomotives and other rolling stock; in addition to buildings, factories, vehicles, gun emplacements, tanks, radar installations, oil and ammunition dumps. On June 25, 1944 the Tuskegee Airmen accomplished what no other fighter group could claim, the destruction of a German destroyer by machine gun fire." They flew a total of 15,553 sorties, and 1578 missions, 200 of which were as fighter escorts for heavy bombers which were flying deep into Germany.(2) During these escorts not one of the heavy bombers was lost to enemy fighter opposition.

    Flying four types of first line fighter aircraft in combat, they shot down three of the eight Messerschmitt 262 jet planes confirmed by the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force. The Four Hundred and Fifty (450) African American pilots flying in the 99th, 100th, 301st and the 302nd Fighter Squadrons were collectively known as the 332nd fighter Group. The Group was awarded the DISTINGUISHED UNIT CITATION for successfully escorting bomber groups, and for outstanding and aggressive combat technique culminating in a Presidential Unit Citation on March 24, 1945, reading in part: "..displaying outstanding courage, aggressiveness, and combat technique, the 332nd Fighter Group reflected great credit on itself and the armed forces of the United States of America..."

1. Rose, Robert A. Lonely Eagles, A Story of America's Black Air Force in World War II. Tuskegee Airmen Inc, 1980. p. 9

2. Ibid, p. 156


October 31, 1919 -

August 25, 1948

   Harvey N. Pinkney was born October 31, 1919 in Baltimore, MD. As a youngster he became interested in airplanes, collected aviation magazines, and built model airplanes including a gasoline powered model with a eight-foot wingspan which he flew whenever possible.

   During World War II, he was drafted into the U.S. Army while attending Morgan State College (Morgan State University). While stationed at Fort Belvior, VA, he volunteered for and was accepted in the Army Air Corps. After attending flight training school at Tuskegee he graduated in class 43-J, the first combined single and multi-engine training class. He was assigned to the 617th Squadron of the 477th Bomber Group, flying the B-25-J. Lt. Pinkney trained navigators and after the war he flew B-17s to Arizona for storage. He logged more than 3000 hours of flying time. When the war ended the 477th was deactivated and the pilots were assigned to the 100th Fighter Squadron, flying P-47-Ds.

   During the post war years, Lt. Pinkney was a flight instructor at the training facility at Lockborne Air Force Base in Columbus,Ohio. On the night of August 25, 1948, Lt. Harvey N. Pinkney (twenty-nine year old bridegroom of twenty nine days) was killed in an aircraft landing accident when the plane behind him in his landing formation's landing gear crashed through his canopy. His Republic F-47 "Thunderbolt" burst into flames in the fatal aircraft collision.

   So there-under a humid, calm and starless sky in the hushed silence of approaching midnight - a young and courageous pilot met in rendezvous with death amid the flaming inferno of his wrecked plane. His ambition was to have been an airline pilot.