SUN CITY, Ariz. – Lt. Col. (Ret.) Robert Ashby, one of the three last surviving Tuskegee Airmen living in Arizona, died Friday at 95 at his home in Sun City.
Ashby, who served in the U.S. Air Force, was the first Black pilot hired by Frontier Airlines and the first Black commercial pilot to reach mandatory retirement age at 60 for a major airline, KNXV reported.
The Tuskegee Airmen is the name given to the first group of Black pilots who flew combat missions during World War II.
According to KSAZ, Ashby enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet program at the age of 17 and was called to active duty in August 1944. Four months later he was dispatched to Tuskegee, Alabama, to begin aviation training. After graduating with his Tuskegee class on Nov. 20, 1945, Ashby was assigned to be part of the U.S. occupation of Japan.
In a news release, the Archer-Ragsdale Arizona Chapter of Tuskegee Airmen Inc. detailed Ashby’s military service as follows:
“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 21 years of honorable service in U.S. Air Force.”
After retirement, Ashby began his commercial flying career as a flight operations instructor with United Airlines, before joining Frontier as a second officer pilot in 1973. He was later promoted to first officer and then captain, KSAZ reported.
Ashby is survived by his wife, Dorina Ashby, and their three sons.