Fred J. Ascani was a key figure in Air Force experimental aircraft flight testing. He became a test pilot after flying 53 combat missions in B-17s over Europe. Born in Beloit, Wisconsin in 1917, he grew up in Rockford, Illinois. Ascani entered flight training after graduating from the Military Academy in 1941 and received his wings in March 1942. After duty with a tow target unit, he joined the 483rd Bombardment Group in February 1944, flying the B-17. The group moved to Italy in May 1944, where Ascani later became Commander of the 816th Bombardment Squadron. His 53 combat missions included two over Ploesti, Rumania, and one to Memmingen, Germany, where the unescorted group lost one entire squadron after being attacked by over 200 German fighters.
On 7 October 1944, Ascani was deputy commander of a secret mission of six B-17s that flew behind enemy lines into Slovakia. While under intense ground fire, the heavily-loaded bombers took supplies to partisans and rescued 180 high ranking Czech officials and Allied airmen. He returned to the States in December 1944 and spent the next five years in the Flight Test Division of the Air Technical Service Command, at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In January 1950, he reported to the 3077th Experimental Group, Edwards AFB, California, as Director of Experimental Flight Test and Engineering and later became Vice Commander of the Air Force Flight Test Center.
Ascani flew over 50 different types of research aircraft, including the X-1, X-4, X-5, XB-42, and the XF-92A. At the 1951 National Air Races, he flew his F-86 over a 100-kilometer closed course, setting a new speed record of 635.686 mph and earning the Thompson and Mackay trophies. In July 1954, he became Commander of the 86th Fighter-Interceptor Group at Landstuhl, Germany. He then commanded the 50th Fighter-Bomber Wing, USAFE's gunnery champs, first at Hahn, Germany, then at Toul-Rosieres Air Base, France. In July 1961, he became Deputy Commander and System Program Director for the B-70 program, supervising construction of two experimental versions of the Mach 3 aircraft. In November 1965, he transferred to Fuchu Air Station, Japan, as Vice Commander, Fifth Air Force.
He returned to Wright-Patterson in July 1967 as Director of Operations for Air Force Logistics Command. After an assignment in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Major General Ascani retired on 1 August 1973. His decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Army Commendation Medal, Distinguished Unit Citation Emblem, and Croix de Guerre with Palm.
On 7 October l944, six B-17s flew a secret rescue mission to the airfield at Banska Bystrica, Slovakia. Major Ascani led the second flight of aircraft. Each airplane carried supplies and 12 OSS men when it took off as part of a larger mission to Ploesti. The six B-17s split from the main force. At the field, Slovak partisans unloaded the aircraft while the crews kept the engines running. Other partisans held off Germans a mere two kilometers away. When the airfield came under mortar attack, the aircraft, now loaded with high-ranking Czech officials and Allied evaders, took off and flew back to base. Major Ascani named his personal aircraft "Snooney III."