If you read this blog regularly, you know that I’ve been living temporarily in Florida since November of last year.  I get back to Minnesota every three months to visit family and friends and check on the house.  I drove this trip because I was staying longer than usual and the budget worked out better for that approach than flying and renting a car.
     I truly enjoy a road trip so driving 1500+ miles one way is not a big deal to me.  I typically complete the jaunt in two or three days, grabbing grub via the drive-thru and stopping only when necessary (I’ve become quite the expert on rest stops…). 
     This trip from Florida to Minnesota took three days because I took a detour to Iowa to visit family.  The trip back to Florida will also take three days because I’m going to stop somewhere I’ve wanted to see – the Chanute Air Museum in Rantoul, Illinois.  I’ll be there on Monday, the 20th.
     The pilot training program at Tuskegee hadn’t even started yet when the 99th Pursuit Squadron (later to be known as a “Fighter Squadron”) was activated as the first African-American Army Air Forces unit on March 22, 1941 at Chanute Air Base outside of Rantoul,.  The first class of aviation cadets wouldn’t start classes at Tuskegee until July; at that point, the support trainees had already done months of training at Chanute.
A portion of the class of 100 aviation mechanics on graduation day at Chanute Air Base in front of Hangar 3.

     In November, the headquarters for the 99th PS moved to Tuskegee and the 250 young black Americans who would support the pilots trained at Tuskegee went with it.  The majority had learned airplane mechanics but there were also armorers, machinists and welders. These enlisted men would go to North Africa with their pilots as part of the first black aviation unit.  They would also become the ground support base group for the other segregated fighter squadrons (the 100th, 301st and 302nd).  Since each pilot had about 10 people supporting him and more than 990 black military pilots got their wings, it’s easy to see why a strong core of trained technical people was important. 
    There’s a nice museum near the former air base and I plan to spend time and take pictures as I can.  I’ll share my experiences with you in next week’s blog.

William R. Thompson
     Speaking of pictures, the Chanute Air Museum is the repository of hundreds of original “everyday” photographs of the Tuskegee Airmen at work and at rest in the U.S. and overseas during World War II.  They were taken by a young man trained at Chanute named William R. Thompson.   
He became an armorer to support the 99th Fighter Squadron and was promoted to armaments officer during his 2+years overseas.  An avid photographer, by practicing his passion during wartime he left us an amazing portfolio of fabulous photos.  The CAF Red Tail Squadron has been given access to the digital versions of the pictures.  The two appearing in this blog are courtesy of the Chanute Air Museum.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.



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