The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African American pilots to fly in World War II, setting the precedence and paving the way for African Americans in the flight deck, like Brian Jackson, Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) Base Chief Pilot.
“I wouldn’t be here without them,” said Brian. “The Tuskegee Airmen set the framework to be what I am today. I want to be able to supply opportunities like that for generations to come.”
Strolling through LAX, Brian reflected on how his framework began when he was a boy growing up in a blue-collar neighborhood in Lakeland, Florida. With an aunt who was a flight attendant and an uncle who is still an airline mechanic today, Brian’s interest in aviation began at an early age.
But becoming a pilot? It seemed like a distant dream.
“As a minority, when you dream of becoming something like a pilot, you seek someone that looks like you,” said Brian. “It’s so you can say, ‘I want to be like them.’ But I didn’t have that person to look to. Even though I had family in the aviation industry, they weren’t pilots.”
However, it was Brian’s family, specifically his mother and another one of his uncles he credits as his mentor, that encouraged and helped him toward a dream that, at the time, seemed distant.
“My mother never loved flying,” said Brian. “But she told me, ‘Go for your dreams and always be the best you can be.’ And then my uncle helped put everything in front of me. He helped put me in flight school and with my resumes to get hired at my first regional carrier. He was the person that helped me clear the path.”
Brian’s path brought him to United 15 years ago. He started at Newark Liberty International Airport, then moved to Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport, where for over six years, he flew all around the Pacific. He then went on to George Bush Intercontinental Airport where he served as an instructor before moving to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. And as of the beginning of February, Brian is now the base chief pilot at LAX. Throughout his career, Brian has also been an active member and advocate for the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP), the Tuskegee NEXT programs and more.
“A lot of kids will come up and say, ‘Thank you’ or ‘What did it take?'”, said Brian. “But really, we should be thanking them. For putting forth the effort and the time to studying to attain this career. For me, it’s a continued legacy and it all started with the Tuskegee Airman.”