Tuskegee Airman Bob Ashby

Tuskegee Airman Bob Ashby

Bob Ashby enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age seventeen as a candidate for the Aviation Cadet program. He was called to active duty in August 1944. Bob as was assigned to Keesler Field, Mississippi for basic training and testing for entry into the Aviation Cadet Program. In December 1944 Ashby was sent to Tuskegee, Alabama to begin cadet training.

At Tuskegee, he became a member of class 45-H-TE. He trained flying the Stearmen PT-17, AT-6 Texan and then to the B-25 Mitchell bomber. Ashby graduated as a Second Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Class of TE-45-H on November 20, 1945.

World War II was over, but Bob elected to stay in the Air Force. There were few opportunities outside of the military for a young black man to be able to earn a living as a pilot. 

When the war broke out in Korea, he flew Douglas B-26 Invaders on missions against communist North Korea.

In 1956, now in England, Ashby was flying jets. He flew the T-33, B-45 and B-66 in a bombardment squadron and in February 1960, he came to McConnell AFB, KS for training in the B-47 aircraft and became a B-47 instructor pilot.

After 21 years flying in the USAF, he retired with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

In 1973, Bob sent out applications to the airlines, to see if he could get hired to fly airliners. No black man had been hired to be a pilot by the airlines and Bob saw no reason that he couldn’t be the first. Frontier Airlines in Denver decided to give him a try asking him if he could start training class immediately.

 That class was groundbreaking for two reasons. Bob was the first Tuskegee Airman to be in training as a commercial pilot and one of his classmates, Emily Howell, was the first woman in that position.  Bob rose through the ranks at Frontier, attaining the rank of Captain and flying the Twin Otter, Convair 580, Boeing 737 and MD-80. He flew for Frontier until July 17, 1986 when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60, the first black man to have done so while flying as Captain of the Boeing 737.