I blame my grandparents. Both of my grandfathers are responsible for my extreme addiction to aviation. My mom’s dad was a B-25 pilot during WWII. He took me to air shows as a kid, built me several model planes, and shared a never-ending supply of flying stories. My dad’s father had his private ticket and worked for an airline hoping to work his way into a pilot gig, but ended up pursuing studies in ancient religion.
I was pretty much like most of you reading this: I had an endless vocabulary of aviation and thought about doing nothing else with my life than flying. Unfortunately, the reality of living the aviation dream is a difficult one to achieve. I got sidetracked in college where I decided I wanted to be an investment banker and took up studies in finance.
A few short weeks after graduating from college I found myself at a budding young venture capital-type company on the East Coast. The work was exciting and the money was excellent. But something was missing. It took me all of three years to figure out what it was. That something? Passion. I loved my finance job, but I wasn’t passionate about it.
My aha moment came as I was boarding an airliner from Phoenix to Boston. There was a group of accountants boarding the aircraft ahead of me. They were having a passionate discussion about diving into the intricate details of cost accounting. I could tell they loved what they did, but their idea of an awesome time was completely different than mine. That entire flight home to Boston I tried picturing myself in my same job ten years down the road. I couldn’t imagine myself being passionate about my job. Something in the back of my mind said, “I bet fighter pilots are passionate about what they do.”
Over the following weeks and months I found myself returning to my old ways of eating, sleeping, and breathing flying. I read every flying book and magazine I could, watched every flying movie made, and started taking flying lessons. I called up an Air Force recruiter and began figuring out what I would have to do to become a pilot in the United States Air Force. As I pursued the path to an aviation career, I realized I had found the missing “something”.
Following an excruciating recruiting process (that’s a story for another day), a 66% cut in pay, and a trip to USAF Officer Training School, I was off to USAF pilot training at Vance AFB, OK.
Shortly after earning my wings I was assigned to stay at Vance as a T-38 First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP). It wasn’t my first choice, but I couldn’t complain; I was flying! I would later learn that my mom’s dad was a B-25 instructor pilot at Vance back in the day and that he had spent several years in Enid, OK.
Towards the end of my FAIP tour I submitted a package for admittance into the F-22 program. I was in the right place at the right time, and I ended up getting accepted. I’ve been flying the F-22 for several years now and have been able to travel to some amazing places, meet some remarkable people, and do some incredible things.
Every once in a while I think about where I would be if I had not followed my passion. I would probably be happy because that’s the kind of person I am. I would be well-off financially, live in a great part of the country, and probably work with the same amazing group of people I worked with prior to joining the Air Force. The only difference is, I wouldn’t feel a sense of fulfillment.
You don’t have to fly professionally to have that sense of fulfillment. We all have varying degrees of passion for aviation. We have different capabilities when it comes to flying and the resources with which to do it. The key is to find a way to scratch that aviation itch. Be it hanging out at airfields watching planes takeoff, teaching others to fly as a part-time flight instructor, or making a career out of flying, one thing is for sure: flying is in our blood. Some of us recognize it sooner than others, but there is never a bad time to start appeasing this crazy addiction.