Today we’re presenting a “slide show” about the soldiers who supported the pilots who graduated from Tuskegee.  Thanks to the Chanute Air Museum, which has an amazing archive of WWII photos of the Tuskegee Airmen in the field, the narrative will be minimal and the eye-candy will be maximized.  

     Before the first cadet even began his flight training at Tuskegee, 250 young black men began to learn aircraft ground support trades at Chanute Air Field in Rantoul, IL as part of the newly formed 99th Pursuit Squadron.  They and thousands more would support the pilots and their airplanes in North Africa and Italy from 1942 until the war’s end in 1945.  

Here we go … (captions will always precede the pictures)

Members of the 99th trained in administration at Chanute Air Field

Anthony Jones learned sheet metal

Field Communications were taught inside and out…

The 99th’s Air Mechanics celebrated their graduation at Chanute

Communications Officer Dudley Stephenson was one of seven young men in the first 99th communications class.  This picture was taken in North Africa. 

This is line chief Ellsworth H. Dansby.  The line chief was responsible for all of the mechanics and all of the work done on the squadron’s aircraft.  His crews worked mostly outside, in all weather, knowing that the quality of their work could determine if the pilot returned safely. This picture was taken in North Africa where the crews dealt with hot days, cold nights, blowing sand and the enemy.

A ground crew taking a “cooling off” break by a P-40 Warhawk in North Africa

A mechanic works on a P-51C Mustang’s landing gear – note the wing jack

William McCool washes a P-51 Mustang

After the airplane is deemed fit to fly, it’s time for the armament teams to go to work

Armament specialists bore sight a machine gun

This armorer is loading .50 caliber shells for the P-51C Mustang’s machine gun.  Wonder how much that bullet belt weighed…

You may recall last week’s blog talked about the first graduating class at Tuskegee.  As noted, Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. went on to lead the 99th.  Here’s a picture of him (third from left), along with his classmate (and second in command), Operations Officer George Roberts (fifth from left) with others.  They are standing by Davis’ own P-51C Mustang, “By Request”.  The name reflects how the Tuskegee Airmen were requested by bomber pilots to protect them on their missions.  The CAF Red Tail Project’s P-51C Mustang also has “By Request” painted on it- up by the windscreen – to honor Davis and the 99th.

That’s it for this week – next week we’ll have pictures of life in camp and more.

If you enjoyed this, would a couple of you please leave a comment?  I’m not seeing that we have any comments on any of our blog entries.  This means either everyone is very shy or the function is not working.  I’d like to test it with your help. (Your comments do not have to be complimentary!)   Thank you.

The CAF Red Tail Project is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Minnesota Wing of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit


More Posts

Charles Bussey

Charles Bussey April 23, 1921 – October 26, 2003 Class: 43-E-SE Graduation date: 5/28/1943 Rank at time of graduation: 2nd Lt Service # 0804548 Unit: 332nd Fighter Group From: Los Angeles CA “His mother worried

Read More »

Betty Jane Williams

Betty Jane “BJ” Williams 1919 – December 8, 2008 Class: 44-W-6 Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.) Assigned Bases: Randolph Army Air Base (San Antonio, Tex.) Planes flown: PT-17, BT-13, AT-6, AT-7, PT-19 Since no

Read More »

Kathryn Stark Gunderson

Kathryn Stark Gunderson 1916 – February 12, 2019 Class: 43-W-5 Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.) Assigned Bases: Romulus Army Air Base (Mich.) Planes flown: PT-19 and AT-6 Gunderson had a lifelong interest in aviation,

Read More »

Caryl W. Jones Stortz

Caryl W. Jones Stortz January 1, 1918 – February 24, 2009 Class: 43-W-5 Training Location: Avenger Field (Sweetwater, Tex.) Assigned Bases: Camp Davis Army Air Field (N.C.) Planes flown: PT-17, AT-6, A-24, A-20 Caryl “Suds”

Read More »

Send Us A Message