Tuskegee Airman Who Flew 142 WWII Combat Missions Dies at 99

World War II pilot Robert Friend, one of the last original members of the famed all-black Tuskegee Airmen, has died at the age of 99.

Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Robert Friend arrives at the premiere of Disney's "The Finest Hours" at the TCL Chinese Theatre on January 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Robert Friend arrives at the premiere of Disney’s “The Finest Hours” at the TCL Chinese Theatre on January 25, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Credit: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Friend’s daughter, Karen Friend Crumlich, told The Desert Sun her father died Friday at a Southern California hospital.

Born in South Carolina on 1920’s leap day, Friend flew 142 combat missions in World War II as part of the elite group of fighter pilots trained at Alabama’s Tuskegee Institute. The program was created after the NAACP began challenging policies barring black people from flying military aircraft.

Friend’s 28-year Air Force career included service in the Korean and Vietnam wars. He also worked on space launch vehicles and served as foreign technology program director before retiring as a lieutenant colonel and forming his own aerospace company.

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