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Academy cadet, pilot says family support keeps his dreams aloft

Cadet 1st Class Alexander Brown. (Photo/U.S. Air Force Academy)

By Jennifer Spradlin, Sept. 6, 2019

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — As a boy, Alexander Brown had a big dream: become a pilot.

Brown, now a senior at the Air Force Academy, said his family helped him turn that dream into a realistic goal.

“I tell people that no matter how big your dreams seem to others, if you believe in that dream, find the right people to support and mentor you, and go for it,” he said.

At 10, they bought him a flight simulator, which he modified to include pedals and three computer monitors. At 15, they financed private flying lessons at the Frederick Flight Center, outside their home in Maryland.  By 17, Alex had earned his pilot’s license, and according to his father, Chris, he was licensed to fly before he was legally able to drive.

“In kindergarten, they asked the children what they wanted to be when they grew up, and you know, many of them said policeman, firefighter or doctor, but he said he wanted to be a pilot and he never wavered,” Chris said. “We couldn’t be more proud of him.”

Brown followed his father, a 1979 graduate, to the Air Force Academy where he could build his aviation skills while  serving others. He said the opportunity to become part of an extended military family was a big motivation for applying to the Academy.

Brown is a member of the Academy Precision Flying Team and competes in intercollegiate flying competitions. Last year, he was the spring flight commander, and the team finished fifth in the National Intercollegiate Flying Association championships. It was the highest team finish since 1996.

“There’s a photograph of me as a little kid, in a cockpit, and I’m smiling,” he said. “I have that photograph taped to my dashboard, and I think of that kid all the time. How excited he would be that I’m out here flying every day, with a great group of friends, and doing what I love.”

Brown was recently invited to give a talk at the 43rd Annual Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals Convention and Career Fair in Los Angeles. He spoke to more than 200 young people about his personal journey to become a pilot and Air Force officer. Adversity, he said, would be part of their journey, just as it was part of his, but that their hard work and dedication to their dreams would pay off.

“Attending the conference was life-changing for me,” he said. “I have always been in a minority in the [flying community] because of my age and my skin color, but this conference sort of reminded me that there’s a broader community that you may not have ever met that is out there rooting for you and wishing you success,” he said.

Brown is focused on his final year at the Academy, but said his five-year goal is to fly for the Air Force and  be involved in the Air Force test pilot program.

He cites the final verse from “Thinking,” a poem by Walter Wintle  his father taught him to help him “stay the course”:

“Life’s battles don’t always go
To the stronger or faster man;
But sooner or later the person who wins
Is the one who thinks he can!

More photos

(Photo courtesy of Alexander Brown)

(Photo courtesy of Alexander Brown)