The Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) announced that Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert “Bob” Ashby a longtime OBAP member and champion had flown west on March 5, 2021. He was 95 years old. His obituary said Ashby was enamored with airplanes at a young age and enlisted in the Army Air Force in 1944 rather than waiting to be drafted. He tested into the Tuskegee Institute for flight training. After World War II, he also flew bombers during the Korean conflict.
OBAP said Ashby, a retired US Air Force officer, also garnered many firsts during his career. For example, the Smithsonian Institute credits him as the only Tuskegee Airman ever to become a pilot for a commercial airline. OBAP said in a news release, “Ashby’s historic ascension into the world of commercial aviation was accomplished despite many political and societal obstacles he endured.”
Ashby’s commercial aviation career began when he joined United Airlines as a flight operations instructor responsible for training new pilots on the Boeing 727, 737, and 747. United had no black pilots at the time according to Ashby’s obituary. In 1973 Robert Ashby joined Frontier Airlines as its first black pilot, eventually amassing over 22,000 hours of flying. He retired as a captain in July 1986, becoming the first African American to reach retirement age, then 60, with a commercial airline.