The Tuskegee Airmen are being honored with the 2021 Clifford Henderson Trophy, an award bestowed by the National Aeronautic Association to recognize “a living individual, group of individuals, or an organization whose vision, leadership or skill made a significant and lasting contribution to the promotion and advancement of aviation and aerospace in the United States.”
“The Tuskegee Airmen served their country with bravery and skill,” said NAA President Greg Principato. “And then, refusing to be defeated at home by a country that did not always appreciate them, came together to educate generations of students and fellow Americans to help form our more perfect Union. The contributions of the Tuskegee Airmen to their country and to our history will live on for centuries.”
The Tuskegee Airmen began serving during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps and were the first Black military aviators. Nearly 1,000 pilots and almost “14,000 navigators, bombardiers, instructors, aircraft and engine mechanics, control tower operators and other maintenance and support staff” trained at Tuskegee Army Airfield in Alabama, according to History.com. Tuskegee Airmen flew Curtiss P–40 Warhawks, Bell P–39 Airacobras, Republic P–47 Thunderbolts, and North American P–51 Mustangs on more than 1,200 missions in four different squadrons—99th, 100th, 301st, and 302nd—in the Twelfth Air Force and over 300 missions in the 332nd Fighter Group for the Fifteenth Air Force, according to Tuskegee Airmen website. They totaled more than 15,000 individual sorties.
The NAA notes that the Tuskegee Airmen collectively earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses. The military eventually integrated all personnel in 1948.
“The Tuskegee Airmen are excited to be recognized with the presentation of the 2021 Clifford Henderson Trophy and to be a part of the long list of aviation pioneers recognized by the National Aeronautic Association,” said Tuskegee Airmen Inc. National President Jerry Burton. “The World War II record and accomplishments of the Tuskegee Airmen are legendary and this award will be a part of the legacy.”
The trophy, established in 1960, is named in honor of Clifford Henderson, who created and managed the National Air Races from 1928 to 1939. The trophy is included in a collection of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum. Other groups that have received the award include the U.S. Air Force Academy and The Ninety-Nines.