WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio –
On June 27, 1939, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Civilian Pilot Training Act into law. This law helped get America ready for World War II by training up aviators for future combat. Preceding the law was the Civilian Pilot Training Program (CPTP) which aimed to train 20,000 civilian pilots a year for military service. A great success, the CPTP trained 435,165 pilots from 1939 - 1944.
The program meant individuals previously excluded from pilot training could learn to fly through educational institutions. Suddenly, African Americans and women could pilot planes.
Government funds were appropriated to several colleges and universities for the program, including historically black colleges.
The most famous of the training spots was at Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Alabama.
The Tuskegee program trained around 1,000 pilots and nearly 14,000 other individuals for professions like navigators, mechanics, bombardiers and more. The first Tuskegee Airmen to deploy headed to North Africa in April 1943 as part of the 99th Pursuit Squadron. It was in February 1944 that the first Tuskegee-trained pilots saw combat.
The CPTP trained around 2,000 Black pilots in total.
The Women Airforce Service Pilots, or WASP, were American civilian pilots. These female aviators tested aircraft, transported planes and trained other pilots. They also freed up male pilots for active combat missions during World War II. Most went through the CPTP first and then went through another round of specialized training after gaining acceptance as a WASP. No Black women were chosen as WASPs, despite the many qualified pilots who applied.