Moton Field was the only primary flight facility for African-American pilot candidates in the U.S. Army Air Corps (Army Air Forces) during World War II. It was named for Robert Russa Moton, second president of Tuskegee Institute.
Moton Field was built between 1940-1942 with funding from the Julius Rosenwald Fund to provide primary flight training under a contract with the U.S. military. Staff from Maxwell Field, Montgomery, Alabama, provided assistance in selecting and mapping the site. Architect Edward C. Miller and engineer G. L. Washington designed many of the structures. Archie A. Alexander, an engineer and contractor, oversaw construction of the flight school facilities. Tuskegee Institute laborers and skilled workers helped finish the field so that flight training could start on time.
The Army Air Corps assigned officers to oversee the training at Tuskegee Institute/Moton Field. They furnished cadets with textbooks, flying clothes, parachutes, and mechanic suits. Tuskegee Institute, the civilian contractor, provided facilities for the aircraft and personnel, including quarters and a mess for the cadets, hangars and maintenance shops, and offices for Air Corps personnel, flight instructors, ground school instructors, and mechanics. Tuskegee Institute was one of the very few American institutions to own, develop, and control facilities for military flight instruction. In addition to the flight training at Moton Field, the following known sub-bases and auxiliaries were used:
- Calabee Flight Strip
- Hardaway Auxiliary Field (Location Undetermined)
- Kennedy Auxiliary Field (Tuskegee Institute Field #1)
In late March 1941 Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, visited Kennedy Field in the Tuskegee area and was taken up in an aircraft piloted by C. Alfred “Chief” Anderson, Tuskegee Institute’s chief instructor pilot. Ms. Roosevelt was a Rosenwald Fund trustee who helped secure financing for the construction of Moton Field at Tuskegee.
The first class (42-C), which included student officer Captain Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., began training on July 19, 1941. who served as Commandant of Cadets. Twelve cadets served with him under Captain Noel F. Parrish, a white officer, and 2d Lieutenant Harold C. Magoon, another white officer, who served as the adjutant. The other cadets were: John C. Anderson, Jr., Charles D. Brown, Theodore E. Brown, Marion A. Carter, Lemuel R. Custis, Charles H. DeBow, Jr., Frederick H. Moore, Ulysses S. Pannell, George S. Roberts, Mac Ross, William H. Slade, and Roderick C. Williams. Only five of these cadets completed the flying training at Tuskegee, in March 1942.
Rigorous training in subjects such as meteorology, navigation, and instruments was provided in ground school. After pilot cadets passed primary flight training at Moton Field, they transferred to Tuskegee Army Air Field (TAAF) to complete their training with the Army Air Forces. TAAF was a full-scale military base (albeit segregated) built by the U.S. military. The facility at Moton Field included two aircraft hangars, a control tower, locker building, clubhouse, wooden offices and storage buildings, brick storage buildings, and a vehicle maintenance area.
Many cadets got their primary flight instruction at Moton Field. Support personnel were trained at Chanute Field in Illinois. . Between 1941 and 1945, Tuskegee Institute trained over 1,000 black aviators for the war effort.
Moton Field was closed in 1946. In 1972, a large portion of the airfield at Moton Field was deeded to the city of Tuskegee for use as a municipal airport which is still in use today.