The saying goes, you can’t be what you can’t see. Thankfully, Nick Brown grew up seeing his father, Willis Brown, 84, fly planes and learning about how he blazed trails as one of few Black commercial pilots in 1968. By the time Nick was six-years-old he knew he wanted to be just like his Dad.
31 years later Nick’s dream came true when he earned his private pilot’s license and took his father on a flight as his first passenger. It's an achievement he has worked towards since 2013.
“Usually it only takes about six months to a year and a half, but I work on an oil rig so it took me six years because I could only pursue the license on my days off,” Nick told Because of Them We Can.
Their first flight together was a total of an hour and forty minutes from Wisener airport in Texas to Galveston Island and back.
“He bought me a chocolate cake. He was excited and he was really impressed with my flight plan.”
Nick graduated with his degree in Electric Engineering Technology from Prairie View A&M University and while he has a thriving career, becoming a pilot is something he always wanted to do. Perhaps he was influenced by the experiences he and his two sisters gained flying with their father, who after 27 years, retired from American Airlines as an International Captain for the DC-10.
“He would have these layovers for a few days and he would take us to whatever theme parks were in those cities,” he said. “We were flying business class and first class as kids. He would fly us to Miami then he would fly us to LA and take us to Disneyland.”
Nick shared that as the captain’s kids they had to dress up like they were going to church whenever they boarded a flight. Each time it was an experience.
Willis learned how to fly in 1959 as a senior at Howard University through an ROTC program at Andrews Air Force base in Maryland. One of his instructors was a Tuskegee Airman by the name of Chuck Dryden.
In 1961 Willis joined the Air Force where he did two tours as a fighter pilot in Vietnam. In October 1968 he was hired by American Airlines until his retirement in 1995.
Ebony magazine featured him and other Black pilots at the time in their January 1978 issue.
Nick says that being able to take his Dad in the air was one of his proudest moments. While he plans to pursue his commercial license as a plan B, sharing the unique experience with his father has fulfilled him.
“If something were to happen and I were never able to fly again I would be okay since I was able to take my Dad up at least once.”