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The Inspiration and History
The history of the Tuskegee Airmen began when the Civil Aeronautics Authority selected 13 cadets to participate in an experiment at the Tuskegee Institute in Tuskegee, AL aimed at training "colored personnel" to become combat pilots for service in the Army Air Corps. However, fierce discrimination, lack of institutional support and the belief that these men lacked the intelligence and aptitude to be pilots or maintain military aircraft dogged their every step.

When they were finally awarded the opportunity to fight for the Allied forces during World War II, these men flew thousands of missions, and in a two-year period between 1943 and 1945, the Tuskegee Airmen shot down more than a hundred German aircraft, including three of the first German jets ever used in combat. Their planes, P-51 Mustangs painted with distinct red tails, came to be feared by the enemies and respected by allies.

By the end of the war, the Tuskegee Airmen had earned 96 Distinguished Unit Citations and as individual pilots earned several Silver Stars, Purple Hearts and hundreds of other awards and medals.

"I thought their story would make a great film," says Lucas, "An inspirational one that shows the incredible things these men went through to patriotically serve with valor and help the world battle back the evils of fascism. It is an amazing story, and I wanted to memorialize it."

To be as true as possible to the spirit of the Tuskegee Experience would require direct input from the original Airmen themselves. Lucas and producers Rick McCallum and Charles Floyd Johnson spent hundreds of hours with the surviving Tuskegee Airmen, visiting them in their homes, attending the annual Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. National Convention and hosting many of them at Skywalker Ranch, George Lucas's production offices in Northern California.

"When I first met many of the Tuskegee Airmen, they were in their 50s and they were captains of industry, educators, entrepreneurs and community activists," recounts Johnson. "They all had a real interest in making sure people knew about their legacy."

Though rooted in history, the story Lucas wanted to tell was not one found in thick, dusty tomes that line a study hall. Lucas envisioned an action-packed inspirational picture about phenomenally skilled and brave young men who fly amazing machines in very dangerous situations.

"This is an adventure movie and not a civil rights movie," says Dr. Roscoe Brown, one of the original Tuskegee Airmen who consulted on the film. "It is about us overcoming the obstacle of racism with excellence and friendship, camaraderie and discipline. Those are the eternal lessons that affect anybody."

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