Norman Wilfred Scales, Sr., a World War II African-American fighter pilot, was born in Austin, Texas, on November 11, 1918, to Armisted Elbert Scales and Louvella (also known as Luella) M. Scales. Norman had six siblings.
Scales grew up in south and east Austin. He graduated from Austin’s L. C. Anderson High School and then Tillotson College (now Huston-Tillotson University) in Austin. In 1940 he was working as a dishwasher in a café, but in August of that year, he joined the United States Army. He began his military service as a private. During World War II, he was trained as a pilot and became one of the Tuskegee Airmen. He was promoted to second lieutenant and later to captain. He was the first black pilot commissioned as a second lieutenant from Austin.
Sometimes referred to as “Lonely Angels” or “Night Flyers” (as a veiled racial slur), the famed Tuskegee Airmen, in fact, made a huge contribution to the war effort. The Tuskegee Airmen were known for their bravery. During their 200 missions, they did not lose a single bomber that was under their protection. The segregated squadron of African Americans disabled or destroyed 400 German planes and at least 1,000 ground and sea targets. Singer Lena Horne, the Tuskegee pilots’ favorite wartime pin-up girl, later recalled: “They [the Tuskegee Airmen] were a group of young men, like all other young men, cocky, ambitious, very sure of themselves. They had this impossible dream of becoming pilots, fighting for their country. Believe me, it was almost impossible. The country created a special air force for them.” Scales flew seventy missions over enemy territory and survived a plane crash. He was also in charge of installing and maintaining wire and radio signal communications. In recognition of his exemplary wartime accomplishments, he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at Bergstrom Air Force Base in Austin on February 21, 1945. He was also awarded a Certificate of Valor. In May 1945 he was released from the army.
Norman Scales had married Lydia Machy in about 1943 or 1944. Upon becoming a civilian again, he returned to Austin. Scales had difficulty in readjusting to civilian life. Career opportunities for blacks were very limited, especially in the 1940s and 1950s. Scales held a variety of jobs, working as a short-order cook, a porter, a printer for Texas Electric Coop, and in radio and television repair. Eventually he was employed by the University of Texas.
Norman and Lydia had two children, Norman Junior and Ronnie D. Scales. Lydia was a school teacher for many years in Austin and was involved in numerous community and volunteer organizations. Scales was a member of Austin’s Ebenezer Baptist Church. He was a Democrat, an amateur poet, a storyteller, and an avid reader.
Norman Scales died in Austin on May 24, 1981. He was buried in Austin’s Evergreen Cemetery. In 1989 Scales was posthumously recognized with an Honors Award by the Texas Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History at a ceremony in the state Capitol’s Senate Chamber. In 1999 the Texas Senate adopted a resolution, praising Captain Scales’s wartime service to the United States. More recently, a street in Austin’s Mueller neighborhood was named in honor of Norman Scales.