Based upon history, The Tuskegee Airmen opens with Hannibal “Iowa” Lee (Laurence Fishburne) on a train, traveling to Tuskegee, Alabama. Set during World War II, Lee is en route to flight training school at Moton Field. He, along with other African-American men, including Walter Peoples III (Allen Payne), Lewis Johns (Mekhi Phifer) and Billy “Train” Roberts (Cuba Gooding, Jr.), are taking part in what is known as “The Tuskegee Experience”, which is to train Blacks to become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Upon their arrival, they are met by two White officers, Colonel Noel Rogers (Daniel Hugh Kelly) and Major Sherman Joy (Christopher McDonald), and a Black officer, Second Lieutenant Glenn (Courtney B. Vance). Rogers, who commands the base, is optimistic about African-Americans being trained to become aviators. Joy, who supervises the training, is racist and uses every opportunity to dismantle any accomplishment of the African-American cadets, including having them re-take assessments because he believed they cheated. Joy learns that none of the cadets earned less than 95% on the re-test that he administered.