LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
For some pilots, the dream to fly begins the moment they are born. For 1st Lt. Chad Chapman, 47th Student Squadron T-38 Talon student pilot, it took a little longer for those dreams to make an appearance.
“I’m the fourth generation of pilots in my family, but I didn’t always want to become a pilot,” Chapman said. “Things aren’t set in stone and a lot of people don’t know what they want to do with their lives, and that’s okay. I’m just glad that I found what I love to do.”
Chapman discovered his passion in life when he was enrolled in college, which inadvertently turned out to be the rest of his family’s life calling as well.
“It all started with my great-grandpa,” Chapman said. “His name was William ‘Bill’ Chapman. He was a fighter pilot in the Air Force, flying a P-36 Hawk and Consolidated PT-3. He wanted to serve his country and he loved to fly. Flying was new back then, so it was a high honor and a dream for a lot of people.”
The Chapman family’s love for flying seems to have passed on through the generations.
Bill’s son, Richard Chapman (Chad’s grandfather) flew Boeing 707’s for Braniff International Airways, a former commercial airline. His children, James Chapman (Chad’s uncle), and John Chapman (Chad’s father) flew during their time in the Air Force. James flew F-111s Aardvarks, and John flew F-15C Eagles.
Chad’s father had 3 sons, Chase “‘Ship” Chapman, Tyler “Twitch” Chapman and Chad Chapman, also joined the Air Force. Chase flies F-15s, Tyler flies F-16s and Chad is now assigned to F-35s.
“We all enjoy flying so much,” Chapman continues. “In our eyes, flying beats any other job. We’ve always been taught to aim high and shoot for our dreams. I think my great grandfather had that mindset that kind of trickled down and instilled into all of us. ”
Although Chad is more than excited to join his “family of pilots,” he took the road less traveled to get to his position today.
“My situation was a little special because my family always chose flying, so I wanted to make sure that what I did was what I was passionate about in life,” Chapman said. “I studied computer science in college and graduated with that, but it wasn’t really my passion.”
Like the rest of his family, Chad took advantage of the numerous benefits of the Reserve Officer’s Training Corps (ROTC) program during his time in college. One advantage the ROTC program gave him was the opportunity to take an incentive flight. An incentive flight is part of a program offered by the Air Force to individuals who show exceptional performance in their duties. Chad was able to fly in an F-16 Fighting Falcon, and it changed his view on the rest of his life.
“It just turned my world upside down,” said Chapman. “I knew I had to fly and I wanted to be a part of that heritage and legacy.”
After college, Chad was commissioned into the Air Force to pursue his newfound passion for flying. He is currently stationed at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, going through Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training. He is working hard to earn his wings and follow the footsteps of his great-grandfather and the rest of his family.
“My family and I have always been close, but having something that you all share and are passionate about, it brings you a lot closer,” Chapman said. “We all fly different aircraft, but we’ve all been through stressful moments. We just remind each other that ‘yes, it might be hard now, but it’s so worth it in the end, if you just apply and push yourself.’”
One of the things that Chad finds most important about his unique position is how he can find interchangeable support and wisdom from all directions in his life.
“I think that being a part of a family rooted deeply in the Air Force is really special. We all know that the Air Force is like a family away from family, but for me, it literally is my family. Being a part of a legacy is also being a part of a close-knit family, and I consider any pilot in my squadron to be a part of mine. The Air Force is my family, and my family is the Air Force. I think that a lot of people that join the Air Force find that to be true.”