A University of Oklahoma aviation student will participate in a once-in-a-lifetime internship experience this summer – an opportunity he created for himself through networking and persistence.
Brennan Jackson, an OU flight instructor who’s pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Aviation, will head to Talkeetna, Alaska, in May, where he’ll spend three months interning with K2 Aviation. K2 operates 12 airplanes that run more than 60 flights per day taking hunters, fishermen, photographers and tourists around Denali National Park and into the most remote locations in Alaska.
“I debated back and forth for a while about whether or not I wanted to miss out on potentially 100-plus hours of flight time in order to do this, but at the end of the day I can’t imagine I’ll ever have another opportunity to spend three months flying around glaciers and Denali National Park, going salmon fishing, and having to watch out for moose or bear on the ramp,” Jackson said.
Where it all began
It’s fitting that Jackson spend a summer learning the aviation industry in Alaska. Although he grew up in Norman close to Max Westheimer Airport and the OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies, it was in Alaska that he first became interested in aviation.
“I’ve always been interested in aviation, but my first experience in the front seat of an aircraft was when I was 10 years old in a helicopter in Alaska,” Jackson said.
Soon after that trip, Jackson flew his first small, general aviation airplane – a Cessna 180 – and he was hooked. He started reading flight manuals and FAA publications for fun, and by middle school he was writing English papers over aviation-related topics.
“I got my pilot’s license two weeks after I graduated from high school,” he said.
In 2015, Jackson returned to Alaska, where he flew with Rust’s Flying Service, a charter company that operates a fleet on floats out of a seaplane base in Anchorage.
“It was the experience of a lifetime – taking a float plane out to a remote lake in the Alaskan bush, landing next to bears and otters and moose. We even saw a beluga and several whales on the way out there,” Jackson said. “From that moment on, I knew I wanted to go back.”
Persistence pays off
About two years ago, Jackson wrote the owner of Rust’s Flying Service – which also owns K2 – and told him he’d love to see them offer an internship. The owner stayed in touch with Jackson, finally offering him an internship this year. Jackson said he hopes the internship will offer experience and insight into the areas of pilot hiring, fleet management, scheduling, operations supervision and fleet supervision.
“I think this internship will be very beneficial. I’m technically an aviation management major, and one day I’d like to run some kind of aviation company,” Jackson said. “I really think this internship will give me a good look at the business side of an aviation company.”
Jackson said he’s planning to work in some free time that will allow him to hop onto a few standby flights where he can land on remote glaciers and lakes and work on his seaplane rating. He said he’s most looking forward to going to work each day in an atmosphere where everyone is excited to be there.
“The pilots, dispatchers and office staff are there because they love their jobs,” he said. “They get to share some of the most scenic views on the planet with people who travel from all over the world. I’ll be surrounded by people who are excited to be on vacation and, honestly, it’ll be like a vacation for me, too.”
Jackson is set to graduate in May of 2020. While he hopes to one day open a fixed-base operator company that provides services to pilots and aircraft owners, he also could see himself becoming a career airline pilot.
“When I graduate, I plan to fly for the airlines,” he said. “I’ll definitely be doing that for several years. If I absolutely love it, I could also see myself doing that for the entirety of my career.”
Prepared for success
Wherever he lands, Jackson feels confident that his education at OU has prepared him for success in the aviation industry. The small class sizes foster a family atmosphere, and the professors are some of the most experienced people in the industry.
“The School of Aviation Studies attracts people from all across the country,” he said. “We’ve got professors here who were U.S. spy plane pilots. Our director flew the largest airplane in the Air Force and has stories of flying the president’s motorcade around. Our professors author books on all aspects of aviation and do research for the FAA.
“Going through the program at OU and being hired to work as a flight instructor definitely helps prepare students and helps them get the hours they need,” Jackson added. “Almost everybody graduates from this program with a job. I struggle to think of anyone who leaves this place and has to go job hunting.”
Visit the OU Extended Campus School of Aviation Studies webpage to learn more.