Coast Guard

Bobby C. Wilks, First African American Coast Guard Aviator

WilksBobbyCAPTsmBobby C. Wilks was born in St. Louis, MO in 1931.He graduated from college in 1954 and then enlisted in the US Coast Guard Reserve the following year. He was ordered to Officer Candidate School and was commissioned as an Ensign in 1956. Not long after he was sent to Pensacola, FL to attend flight school and from there attended further training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christie until 1957 when he earned his wings and became the first African American Coast Guard aviator. In 1959 he qualified as a pilot for helicopters and then went on to join the regular Coast Guard where he was promoted to Lieutenant.

Wilks served at many air stations during his career, including overseas stations in the Philippines and Italy. His bravery in search and rescue missions was evident, especially one night in December 1971 when he successful navigated through gale force winds over the Pacific Ocean to rescue a critically ill master of a Russian vessel, earning him the Air Medal. He was promoted to Captain in 1977, becoming the first African American Coast Guardsmen to achieve the rank and was given command of Air Station Brooklyn, NY where he attained another milestone becoming the first African American Coast Guardsmen to command an air station.

Captain Wilks was known not only for his great service to our country but also for his service to his fellow Coast Guardsman. He also served as a mentor for many younger African American members. He served as the Coast Guards liaison to the Federal Aviation Administration. Captain Wilks retired in 1986 after logging over 6,000 hours in 18 different types of aircraft.

After retirement he stayed active in the Coast Guard Aviation Association, who called themselves “the ancient order of pterodactyls”. Captain Wilks died July 13, 2009 and was interred in Arlington National Cemetery. He will always be remembered as a trailblazer and a true friend to his fellow Coast Guardsman.


“Bobby C. Wilks (official biography)”. United States Coast Guard. 2009. Retrieved 2010-03-03.

Joe Holley (2009-07-24). “Coast Guard’s First Black Aviator”. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-03-03.

“Capt. Bobby Wilks has died, was Coast Guard aviator”. St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 2009-07-23. Retrieved 2009-07-24


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