'Smithsonian: Black Wings'
(DVD / PG / 2018 / PBS)
Overview: For early aviators, conquering the forces of gravity was a daunting challenge. But black aviators had an additional challenge - to conquer the forces of racism. Meet the men and women of color who took to the skies throughout the 20th century and helped prove that skin color didn't determine skill level. From biplanes to commercial jets, meet the path-breaking pilots who opened the skies for all.
DVD Verdict: Produced and written by Dan Wolf, 'Black Wings' primarily details The Tuskegee Airmen, the popular name of a group of African-American military pilots (fighter and bomber) who fought in World War II.
They formed the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the United States Army Air Forces. The name also applies to the navigators, bombardiers, mechanics, instructors, crew chiefs, nurses, cooks and other support personnel.
Indeed, all black military pilots who trained in the United States trained at Moton Field, the Tuskegee Army Air Field, and were educated at Tuskegee University, located near Tuskegee, Alabama. The group included five Haitians from the Haitian Air Force, and one pilot from Trinidad.
Although the 477th Bombardment Group trained with North American B-25 Mitchell bombers, they never served in combat. The 99th Pursuit Squadron (later, 99th Fighter Squadron) was the first black flying squadron, and the first to deploy overseas (to North Africa in April 1943, and later to Sicily and Italy).
The 332nd Fighter Group, which originally included the 100th, 301st, and 302nd Fighter Squadrons, was the first black flying group. It deployed to Italy in early 1944. In June 1944, the 332nd Fighter Group began flying heavy bomber escort missions, and in July 1944, with the addition of the 99th Fighter Squadron, it had four fighter squadrons.
In conclusion, and as this truly fascinating documentary from PBS via the Smithsonian reveals, The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American military aviators in the United States Armed Forces.
During World War II, black Americans in many U.S. states were still subject to the Jim Crow laws [N 1] and the American military was racially segregated, as was much of the federal government. The Tuskegee Airmen were subjected to discrimination, both within and outside the army, but as detailed above, they held their heads up high, nonetheless. This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs.