Retired Atlas Captain Bob Chisholm Reflects on Decades-Long Career

Captain Bob Chisholm has worked with Atlas for over 30 years. After retiring from flying in 2014, he joined Atlas’ Miami Training Center as an instructor. Bob is now part of the HR team and interviews prospective new pilots.  

Atlas Air Captain Bob Chisholm standing next to a 747-200 “Classic”

Captain Chisholm in the early days with Atlas.

How long have you been with Atlas?

I started with Atlas in June of 1993 and was one of Atlas’ first pilots. I was hired to fly the first aircraft Atlas had at the time, the 747-200 “Classic,” along with retired Captain Grant Kasischke, who now works on the Support Flight Ops team in the Chief Pilot’s office.

What inspired you to get involved in aviation?

As a child, my father worked in the oil industry and spent a lot of time traveling abroad. At seven years old, I accompanied him on a business trip and flew on a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser for the first time. The plane had a spiral staircase that led to a lower bar and lounge. I snuck down and could see my dad singing songs with passengers as the blue of the Pacific Ocean showed through a window. This moment had a profound impact on me and I knew immediately I wanted to have a career in aviation.

My parents lived all over the world due to my father’s job – Japan, Pakistan and Sweden. My brother and I remained in the States to attend school, but traveled back and forth every Christmas vacation and during the summer. Flying was a luxury and I loved every moment of those flights.

Once I was older, I joined the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). I was in the Air Force for 22 years where I flew Boeing’s 707 out of Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. I wasn’t sure I was ready to retire from the Air Force but a colleague of mine had gone to fly for Atlas and loved it. I decided to pursue the opportunity. I interviewed on a Thursday and began my career with Atlas the following Monday.

Captain Chisolm with initial cadre of B747-400 pilots and their families and other Atlas employees

Captain Chisolm (next to red arrow) joined the initial cadre of B747-400 pilots, along with their families and other Atlas employees, celebrate the first B474-400s that Atlas purchased.

When did you know you wanted to be a pilot?

From my grandmother’s front lawn in Long Island, New York, we could see beautiful Boeing 707s flying into Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport). I was already passionate about aviation but watching those planes land reinforced my interest in becoming a pilot.

What is your most memorable moment since becoming a pilot?

I always loved flying our troops back home from various deployments from around the world. During those flights, as soon as we’d enter U.S. airspace, I’d make an announcement and welcome the troops back home to America. You could hear the cheers from the plane from the flight deck.

I’ve also gotten to see some great sights over the years. One in particular was during a flight from Belgium to Nigeria in Africa, which took us straight down the middle of the Sahara Desert. I recall seeing the incredible land of dust and sand, with nothing prominently visible in any direction for hundreds of miles. After a while, we could see ahead to the tops of thunderstorms just below the horizon in the rainforest of the Republic of the Congo. As we flew south, those tops rose higher and higher on the windscreen. It was truly an amazing sight to see massive thunderstorms over a tropical rainforest while flying over one of the driest regions on earth

What is the most interesting cargo you have ever flown?

I’ve flown Formula One race cars; fish from Chile; asparagus from Peru and flowers from Ecuador and Colombia. Flying for Atlas gives a person tremendous job satisfaction.

What is your favorite part about being an Atlas Pilot? What made you want to come back after retirement?

I retired from flying in 2014 and am now in my ninth year working with the Training Department and Human Resources teams. I work with many Atlas retired pilots, many of whom have been here since the early days.

I’ve absolutely enjoyed my time flying for Atlas. When I started with the Company, I was coming into the ground floor of a new venture. I helped write the Company’s Flight Ops manual 31 years ago. I knew our first CEO Michael Chowdry. He was outstanding in leading our Company. He took the time to meet and spend time with crew members from all around the world. Michael cared about his employees and in my opinion, laid the groundwork for today’s focus on the employee experience.

I consider the pilots at Atlas to be the best pilots in the world. We have the best ground staff too. I didn’t want to retire as a pilot but I love my job now with the hiring department and I plan to stay as long as I can.

What’s something your coworkers would be surprised to learn about you?

I’ve been playing chess for about 65 years and my goal is to someday beat my seven-year-old granddaughter.