Benjamin Franklin Thomas

When Benjamin Franklin Thomas was a child, he made airplanes out of paper and old handkerchiefs to make parachutes, little did he realize that he would take to the skies as an aviator.

Thomas attended the US Naval Academy, class of 1964. Each summer, all Midshipmen were introduced to the many aspects of Naval service. They spent time on various Naval vessels, including aircraft carriers and submarines. During the summer of 1963, Thomas spent time at Naval Air Station Sanford in Sanford, Florida. One day, he climbed into the cockpit of a F-8 Crusader and one of his classmates took a Polaroid photo of him. He kept that photo on his desk during his senior year. It was a daily reminder to him that he “looked good” in a fighter aircraft.

In February 1964, all senior Midshipmen had to declare a singular choice as to what aspect of the Navy they would serve. Although his heart was with the Marine Corps, he chose Navy Air. Initially, Thomas was in the Prop Pipeline. He was assigned to Naval Air Station Corpus Christi for advance training. He submitted a “dream sheet” to fly carrier based fighter aircraft. He was reassigned to NAS Kingsville, Texas for advance jet training. 

Upon completion of flight training, Thomas was assigned to the Replacement Air Group, NAS Lemoore, California and joined the Attack Squadron Twenty-Three, flying the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk. Thomas was deployed twice to the Gulf of Tonkin flying combat missions over North Vietnam and Laos.

Upon leaving the Navy, Thomas joined United Airlines in 1970. After being furloughed later that year, Thomas was hired by Eastern Airlines where he remained until 1991 when Eastern collapsed, then Continental Airlines where he was assigned to Continental Micronesia flying out of Guam until 2000.

Thomas was the first black varsity basketball player in the US Naval Academy, the first black naval aviator to fly 100 combat missions and the first black naval aviator to eject from a jet aircraft.

He is a member of the Caterpillar Club, a member, of Frontiers International, Inc., Annapolis, Maryland Chapter, Chairman of the Human Relations Commission, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, Founder and President of the Organization of Black Airline Pilots, Inc. (currently, the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals, Inc.). 

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