Meet Robert Ashby

Meet Robert Ashby The Man Who Became Frontier Airlines’ First Black Pilot In 1973

Military Aviation Pioneer Turned Airline Trailblazer

The passing of retired Lt. Colonel Robert “Bob” Ashby at age 95 in 2021 marked the close of a pioneering aviation career spanning over 4 decades. Ashby made history as the first-ever African American pilot hired by commercial carrier Frontier Airlines in 1973.

Before entering commercial flying, Ashby had already demonstrated impressive skills as one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen during WW2. He later flew bombers in Korea, becoming an Air Force instructor before his 1965 retirement after 21 years of service.

Despite his extensive credentials, Ashby still faced discrimination trying to become an airline pilot in the early 1970s. But Frontier took a chance on hiring him as a Second Officer in 1973 – launching a 13-year stint where he flew the airline’s Convair 580, B737 and MD-80 aircrafts.

Breaking Barriers To The End

Ashby kept climbing the ranks at Frontier, overcoming obstacles to be upgraded to Captain well before his 1986 retirement. In doing so, he shattered barriers by becoming the first black commercial pilot to reach the mandatory age 60 retirement age for a major airline.

The aviation organization OBAP noted that such an achievement seemed impossible when Ashby started his career in the hostile, segregated environment for black airmen.

Even after finding success at Frontier, Ashby gave back by training younger minority and female pilots on how to succeed despite unfair odds. His unwavering perseverance opened doors for generations of pilots.

Last Surviving Tuskegee Airman In Arizona

In addition to his pioneering aviation feats, Ashby held the distinction of being the last surviving Tuskegee Airman residing in Arizona when he passed.

He was among the three remaining Arizona Tuskegee Airmen – the heroic group of African American fighter pilots who fought fascism abroad while enduring racism at home during World War II.

In 2007, Ashby and the remaining Tuskegee Airmen were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in one of the highest non-military honors that America can bestow.

When Lt. Colonel Robert Ashby flew his last journey on March 5th, 2021, the world lost an aviation legend who kept reaching higher against all odds and discrimination. But his legacy soars on as an inspiration.