Former Campbell County High School baseball standout Ben Aiken is well on his way to fulfilling a lifelong dream of flying a jet fighter plane.
Aiken graduated yesterday (May 23) from the United States Air Force Academy and will leave in January for Columbus Air Force Base in Mississippi where he will begin training to become a pilot. The night before graduation, he got his lieutenant bars during a commissioning ceremony.
“This is the best feeling in the world,” Aiken said.
“I’ve wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember. Now that I’m graduating, it’s a huge milestone in my life. It’s hard to believe that it’s been four years.”
Aiken majored in systems engineering management while at the Air Force Academy. The curriculum included mostly engineering classes along with military history, philosophy and science courses. Of the 1,042 members of this year’s senior class, 505 have an opportunity to earn their wings and become pilots.
And Aiken doesn’t want to fly just any old plane. He wants to fly an A-10 Thunderbolt, a low-level fighter/bomber that provides close air support to ground troops in combat situations. During the past two decades, the A-10 made a name for itself in conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“That was the reason I wanted to fly in the first place,” Aiken said.
“I wanted to fly combat missions in the military.”
At Columbus AFB, Aiken will train for one year. He must log 89 hours of flight time on the T6 training aircraft and another 115 on the T38. Aiken would train in Arizona to fly the A-10.
While at the Air Force Academy, Aiken participated in tryouts for the baseball team but didn’t make the final cut. Leaving baseball behind, Aiken picked up two new sports: rock climbing and golf.
During his final two years, Aiken was captain of the Falcons’ rock climbing team that competed against the United States Military Academy at West Point, Colorado State University and the University of Colorado.