Educator and college founder Mary McLeod Bethune was instrumental in garnering support from Historically Black Colleges and Universities in participating in the Civilian Pilot Training Program. One of these colleges, Tuskegee Institute (now University), became the federal government’s most important center for civilian pilot training when World War II began. The first black pilots trained there began their course on July 19, 1941, and completed rigorous programs in navigation and meteorology before their flight training at the Tuskegee Army Base. The first five who earned their “silver wings” graduated as fighter pilots on March 7, 1942. Some 962 black pilots were trained at Tuskegee during the war years; 450 of them flew in combat.