Bob Ashby enlisted in the Army Air Corps at age 17 as a candidate for the Aviation Cadet program. He was called to active duty in August 1944. Bob 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 Stearman PT-17, AT-6 Texan, and the B-25 Mitchell bomber. Ashby graduated as a Second Lieutenant with the Tuskegee Class of TE-45-H on November 20th, 1945.
World War II was coming to an end, but Bob elected to stay in the Air Force. There were few opportunities for a young black man to be able to earn a living as a pilot outside of the military.
When the war broke out in Korea, he flew Douglas B-26 Invaders on missions against communist North Korea.
In 1956, Ashby was flying jets, now in England. He flew the T-33, B-45, and B-66 in a bombardment squadron. In February 1960, he came to McConnell AFB, Kansas, 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 airlines in hopes of getting hired by fly airliners. No black man had ever been hired as an airline pilot before, but 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: Firstly, Bob was the first Tuskegee Airman to be trained as a commercial pilot. He rose through the ranks at Frontier, attaining the rank of Captain and flying the Twin Otter, Convair 580, Boeing 737, and MD-80. Secondly, he flew for Frontier until July 17th, 1986, when he reached the mandatory retirement age of 60 – the first black man to ever do so!