Few aeronautical engineers can equal the contributions Bob Robbins made to the Boeing Company! As a boy, Robbins thrilled to Lindberghs ticker tape parade in New York. A few years later, following his hero into the air, he took wing in an Aeronca at his hometown airport in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. After earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1938, he went to work for Pan American Airways. He soon obtained an aircraft and power plant mechanics license. In time, he became a flight engineer onboard Pan Am’s ocean-spanning Boeing 314 flying boats. In 26 transatlantic crossings, he logged around 1,000 flying hours!
In 1941, Robbins got the chance of a lifetime, when Boeing test pilot Eddie Allen offered him a job as an engineering test pilot. He leapt at the opportunity to work for one of the aviation industry’s leading companies. It was a decision that would lead to some of the most important test flying in aviation history. He was a project pilot on the B-17 Flying Fortress, and he demonstrated the fine points of flying the heavily armed bomber to Army Air Force instructors. Flying the XPBB-1 Sea Ranger, he showed the capabilities of this long-range, seaplane bomber to the Navy. Following Eddie Allen’s tragic death in an XB-29 Superfortress crash, Robbins became the experimental test pilot in the XB-29 for the remainder of World War II.
On one test flight, Robbins prompt action to extinguish an engine fire led to a solution to a fleet-wide problem. Airborne engine fires had destroyed at least 19 B-29s. After the war in, 1946, during the preliminary design phase of the XB-47, he provided the aviator’s perspective to the Project Design Group. Boeing was faced with many totally new problems. Fortunately, the company had access to captured German test data on advanced designs. This led to the aircraft’s swept wing configuration and significantly higher speeds. On the 44th anniversary of the Wright brothers first flight, Robbins lifted the revolutionary XB-47 Stratojet into the air from Boeing Field and ushered in a new era for strategic bombing. In 1948, he left test piloting to pursue his lifelong career goals in engineering management.
In the following 30 years with the company, he held many important project engineer and program management positions on Boeings B-47 Stratojet, B-52 Stratofortress and KC-135 Stratotanker programs. He was the focal point within Boeing and worked closely with the Air Force on modifications and improvements to these vital strategic aircraft. In 1979, Robbins retired. He remains active in his field and serves on the Board of Visitors for Embry Riddle Aeronautical University.