College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

An electrical engineer and groundbreaking pilot: ECpE Veteran Robert Martin

Robert Martin, a graduate of Iowa State University’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was a pilot and veteran who flew 63 and a half missions during World War II as a part of the well-known and barrier-breaking Tuskegee Airmen, and later on in life became an electrical engineer by jumping over many obstacles.

A native of Dubuque, Iowa, Martin became an ISU electrical engineering student, then applied to join the U.S. Army Air Corps and eventually was enrolled in the military’s new Black Pilot Program. After serving in the military, Martin reignited his electrical engineering roots and became an electrical engineer in Chicago until retirement.

Throughout his time in the military, Martin served with the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African Americans to fly for the U.S. Armed Forces. He defended bomber planes from German attacks throughout his 63 and a half missions. This group made efforts to see black pilots become a part of the Air Force.

Dominique explains how much of an inspiration Martin was, and his many successes in his career.

“Martin received the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Purple Heart, the Air Medal with Six Oak Leaf Clusters and the Congressional Gold Medal,” Dominique said. 

Dominique, Martin’s daughter, knew that while Martin was a highly qualified and talented engineer, after coming back from the military and searching for jobs there was still a large obstacle challenging his credential.

“After honorable military discharge in 1945, in the reserves he rose to the rank of Captain. Martin then looked for engineering jobs, but many companies were not hiring black engineers,” Dominque said. “Eventually he became a draftsman with the Chicago Park District, and he went on to spend 37 years of his career as a street lighting engineer with the City of Chicago, rising to the position of Electrical Design Engineer. All the while, Martin encouraged others to pursue aviation and engineering careers.”

Martin earned his Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State in 1942, and lit up the streets as an electrical engineer with the city of Chicago until he retired in 1988.

Martin was married to his wife, Odette, for 68 years until passing away in July 2019 at age 99. Recently, Martin’s name was added to the ECpE Hall of Fame — a wall created to forever honor ECpE alumni and faculty for their impactful contributions to the profession and society. In Chicago, a southern suburb renamed a post office after Martin, where he lived from 2008 until passing.