CHARLES ANDERSON, TUSKEGEE AIRMEN INSTRUCTOR, AT 89.
As a boy, Charles Alfred ``Chief'' Anderson was desperate to see the invention the world was buzzing about. An African-American child living in Virginia at the turn of the century, he had little hope of getting his hands on an airplane - much less piloting one.
But he read books on aeronautics. He hung out around hangars to observe. Finally he borrowed $2,500, a huge sum in 1929, to buy himself a used airplane. Without a formal lesson, he taxied it and, finally, took off.
He soared to heights unreached before.
Anderson, who died last week at 89 and was buried Friday, trained the storied Tuskegee Airmen, the military's first African-American fliers. The unit, trained at historically black Tuskegee Institute, performed with glory in World War II, leaving in its wake old racial stereotypes and helping ultimately to bring about integration of the armed services.
``He loved the challenge and precision aviation demanded of you. He also recognized it was a new career for black men and women,'' said Anderson's lifelong friend, retired Air Force Lt. Col. Herbert Carter.
As Anderson often recounted it, the military might never have accepted the all-African-American flying group if not for first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who visited Tuskegee in 1940.
``The first thing she said to me was, `I always heard that colored people couldn't fly airplanes,' '' Anderson recalled. So he took her up, for 40 minutes.
Two weeks later the Tuskegee Airmen program was initiated. Anderson was chief flight instructor.
Though Anderson himself never flew in combat, about 450 of the 1,000 pilots trained at Tuskegee fought over North Africa and Europe, destroying 260 enemy planes, damaging 148 others and sinking a Nazi destroyer.
The unit, part of the old Army Air Corps, included Coleman Young, who became mayor of Detroit; Daniel ``Chappie'' James, later the nation's first four-star African-American general; and William Coleman, transportation secretary under President Ford.
The soft-spoken Anderson trained civilians to fly small planes at Tuskegee - now called Tuskegee University - until 1991, logging more than 52,000 flying hours before taxiing for the last time at age 87.
``Flying's just in you like some people like fishing or hunting. When I can't do it anymore, I'm ready to leave this earth. I'm through,'' Anderson said in a 1988 interview.
Retired Air Force Col. Roosevelt Lewis, who as a 16-year-old ROTC cadet trained under Anderson, said although ``Chief'' was a perfectionist in the air, he had a reputation as a joker and someone who used unconventional teaching methods.
When he was training cadets preparing for Vietnam, for example, he would have a stray dog named Yoyo fly with pilots. If the pilots didn't land the plane smoothly, Lewis said, Yoyo wouldn't fly with them again - and Anderson would know the pilots weren't ready to solo.
``He could think about a maneuver and it would happen. The plane would do what he wanted - almost by magic,'' Lewis said.
Anderson's son, Charles A. Anderson Jr., recalled that one time, the engine of a plane seized up after takeoff, but his father and his passenger walked away from the crash.
``Watching him made me a believer in God,'' the younger Anderson said.
At Tuskegee's Moton Field, where Lewis took over Anderson's instructor role five years ago, Lewis pointed to a picture of Anderson inscribed, ``Keep 'em flying.''
``We certainly will, Chief,'' Lewis said. ``We certainly will.''
Photo: Self-taught pilot Charles Alfred ``Chief'' Anderson' s African-American fliers helped bring about the integration of the armed services.
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Apr 20, 1996|
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