Remembering Arizona’s Own Tuskegee Airman July 17, 1926 – March 5, 2021


Lt. Col. Robert Ashby, USAF, Ret. Frontier Airlines Captain, Retired

Lt. Col. (Retired) Robert Ashby, USAF, and Captain (Retired) Frontier Airlines, passed away Friday, March 5, 2021 at his home in Sun City, AZ. He was 95 years old. This Tuskegee Airman was the first African American hired by Frontier Airlines.

He was born in Yemassee, SC on July 17, 1926. After his father died, his mother Lillian, brother James, sister Elizabeth, and Bob moved to Jersey City, NJ. While in high school, Bob investigated pilot training after hearing of the experiences of black pilots in the 99th Pursuit Squadron of the U.S. Army Air Corps at Tuskegee, AL. At seventeen, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet program and was called to active duty in August 1944 after graduating from Ferris High School in Jersey City, N.J. Bob was assigned to Keesler Field, MS for basic training and in December 1944 he was sent to Tuskegee, AL to begin aviation training. As a cadet he flew the Stearman PT-17, AT-6, and the B-25. Ashby graduated and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Class of 45-H on November 20, 1945.

Second Lieutenant Ashby was assigned to Japan as a part of the U.S. occupying force. Upon his arrival, he was rejected by two white flying units because of his color as the Army was still segregated. Ashby was removed from pilot status and assigned to a black company in the Quartermaster Department in Tokyo, Japan. In May 1949, Ashby was reassigned to the black unit at Lockbourne Airfield, OH and was reinstated to flying status. In August 1949, Ashby was assigned to Wright Patterson AFB for a short tour, then to Cleveland Municipal Airport to a Reserve Troop Carrier Wing. Here he trained Reserve weekend warriors in the T-6 and C-46 aircraft.

In 1952, Ashby flew combat in B-26s for a year while stationed in Korea. In 1956, he was assigned to England and flew the T-33, B-45, and B-66 aircraft. Later Ashby trained in the B-47 bomber and later served as a B-47 instructor. In July 1965, Robert Ashby retired as a Lt. Col. after twenty-one years of honorable service in U.S. Air Force. During his career, Bob attended the University of Maryland and U.C.L.A college programs.

Ashby started his commercial aviation career in 1965 with United Airlines as one of their flight operations instructors. He taught in the classroom, on the airplane simulator, and in the 727 aircraft. In 1968, he helped write the training program for the 747 aircraft, including the curriculum, the objectives for the 747, and the instructions for the aircrews. He also served as a classroom and simulator instructor.

In 1973, Ashby was employed by Frontier Airlines as a second officer pilot, first officer, and then as captain. He flew the Twin Otter, Convair 580, Boeing 737, and MD-80. He had an outstanding record of precision, quality, courtesy, and safety with Frontier Airlines and over 20,000 flying hours. In addition, he was the first African American pilot to reach mandatory retirement age (60 years) with a major airline. Bob Ashby retired on July 17, 1986.

Bob Ashby is survived by his wife, Dorina and three sons. Funeral services will be private due the continued pandemic.

For additional information, please contact Joseph Olano, Public Information Officer, Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter, Tuskegee Airmen, Inc. Phone: 951-660-9463; email: