UVU Aviation Alumni Spotlight: Colonel Brandon Taylor

"I would not have been able to have these amazing experiences if I had not persisted in finding a way to get my pilot’s license, finish my four-year degree, and if I had not kept pursuing a dream that at first seemed impossible. UVU helped make everything possible for me."

Utah Valley University graduate Colonel Brandon Taylor was recently promoted to Operations Group Commander at the Utah Air National Guard in Salt Lake City. As an alumni of the UVU School of Aviation Sciences and business school, he has agreed to share the experiences that shaped his education and led to a successful piloting career. Colonel Taylor graciously allowed Sr. Director of Donor Relations and Communications Ron Taylor to visit with him at the Utah Air Guard base in Salt Lake City. He was particularly interested in sharing the lessons he learned about perseverance and determination in the face of uncertainties. The following is the result of that interview.

You have been flying for a long time now, Colonel, when did you first know you wanted to fly?

As long as I can remember I wanted to fly. I just didn’t know how some regular kid like me could ever achieve that kind of lofty dream. It seemed so far out of my reach.  It was, in fact, totally impractical for me to even think about it. 

Because it seemed to be beyond any expectation of becoming a reality, I kind of shoved that dream aside. It wasn’t until after I married that I realized I better try to make something out of myself.  As funny as it may seem, I became reenergized about flying when I saw the movies Top Gun and Iron Eagle. At the time, it looked like you just needed a little time in a flight simulator, the leather jacket, cool sun glasses, and your dog tags. Then, with that, you were off and flying.  

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What did you decide to do at that point to pursue your dream?

It turns out those first impressions weren’t exactly true, but they did excite me about pursuing my long-held dream. And, since flying is what I wanted to do, I decided to check out what was available at what is now Utah Valley University. I decided to enroll in UVU Aviation classes, and at the same time managed to get a job with Jones Paint and Glass which was just down the street from the airport. The work was meant to help me pay my tuition, and at that point, I thought I had it made.

The day I attended my first class, the instructor asked the fifty or so of us in the room if we had our funding ― funding for flying. I was looking around wondering to myself, what in the world is he talking about? I thought, yeah, I think so. I paid my tuition. That’s when I first realized tuition didn’t cover flight fees. 

So, what did you do?

I began scrambling to figure out how to pay for actually getting into an airplane and learning to fly.  Fortunately, there were student loans available, and I was able to get my private pilot license the following May.

In completing that certificate, I learned a lot about all of the other things I needed to do to reach my goal. Getting my private license was just the first step.

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What happened after that?

There were just three of us who finished our private pilot license that Spring. I don’t know what happened to the others ― maybe it just took them longer. I also attribute it to the fact that flying is not this glorious thing that Top Gun made it look like to me. There is so much more involved. It is amazing and fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work. Luckily for me, I enjoyed, and the hard work was worth it. 

And another thing, if you want to fly professionally you need to keep pressing forward after you get your private license.  With anything less than a commercial license, your options are limited.

To be successful in aviation today, you need a four-year degree to do almost anything, and you certainly need a bachelor’s degree to become a pilot in the Air Force. Fortunately, I was able to complete my UVU education with a Bachelor of Arts degree from the business school because, at the time, aviation was only a two-year program. That four-year degree was exactly what I needed to get me where I wanted to be and where I am today, even though I didn’t realize that at the time. Back then, I just knew it was something I wanted to accomplish.

How did you end up joining the Utah Air National Guard?

In the process of trying to finish my four-year degree, I ran out of money to pay for flight costs. That’s when I decided to join the Utah National Air Guard. As much as anything, I joined for the educational benefits which would help me, but I could also afford to continue flying.

When I joined the guard, I joined as a member of the ground crew because there were no slots open for new pilots. I just needed a way to pay for my time in the air, and it was the perfect opportunity to keep me close to and working with airplanes.

After joining the Guard and finishing my basic training, I was able to get a part-time job pumping gas at the Provo Airport while I was finished school and staying busy with my job at Jones Paint and Glass.  It was at this point that everything started to come to a head.

In the process of trying to finish my four-year degree, I ran out of money to pay for flight costs. That’s when I decided to join the Utah National Air Guard. As much as anything, I joined for the educational benefits which would help me, but I could also afford to continue flying.

When I joined the guard, I joined as a member of the ground crew because there were no slots open for new pilots. I just needed a way to pay for my time in the air, and it was the perfect opportunity to keep me close to and working with airplanes.

After joining the Guard and finishing my basic training, I was able to get a part-time job pumping gas at the Provo Airport while I was finished school and staying busy with my job at Jones Paint and Glass.  It was at this point that everything started to come to a head.

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mission to china

uvu aviation alumni promotion to colonel

What has it been like to be a pilot with the Utah Air National Guard?

During my years with the Air Guard, I’ve often had the opportunity to deploy with our group. They are amazing times. I’ve traveled the world: France, Italy, Spain, Crete, the Azores, China, Kurdistan, and Guam ― all over. I have had the privilege to be with amazing people, to see and do some incredible things. These are experiences that have broadened my horizon and enhanced my understanding of the world we live in.

I’ve learned a lot about the people who live in different cultures and with different values. I’ve learned they are just trying to live good lives and take care of their families, just the same way we are here. Those are the things that sometimes we don’t understand or appreciate. It’s been important for me to be able to experience some of those different perspectives and learn from them.

Do you have any advice for those who would love to learn to fly, but don’t know how they can possibly make it?

Here is the bottom line, I would not have been able to have these amazing experiences if I had not persisted in finding a way to get my pilot’s license, finish my four-year degree, and if I had not kept pursuing a dream that at first seemed impossible. UVU helped make everything possible for me.

I love to fly. I love being up there looking down on the earth, but it wasn’t something I had originally thought I could do, even though I had always wanted to.

I’ve learned through it all that your dreams may not seem within reach when you first start thinking about them. The doors may not open when you think they should. But if you keep preparing yourself the opportunities will come ― just be prepared. Finish your schooling as soon as you can. Take advantage of the opportunities when they come, even if they seem a bit scary and you’re not sure you can do it.

Believe in yourself and move forward.

In what way?

I needed to decide where I was going in my life. How was going to chase my dream and still support my family? My friend at the Provo Airport wanted to hire me full-time, and at the time that sounded really good to me ― I was already flying at that airport anyway, and it meant I wouldn’t have to disrupt my family with a move. I wanted to be a pilot in the Air Force, but I hadn’t heard back from them months after submitting my application. I was starting to get discouraged about that dream ever being realized.

It was in the middle of all that uncertainty about my future that I learned there might be an opportunity for me to become a pilot in the Utah Air National Guard. I got excited to know there might be another option. 

Back then, you had to be in UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) with the Air Force before you turned 27.5 ― I was 26 at the time. Knowing I had only one shot due to my age, I graduated in May, applied that Summer, and was assigned a slot for pilot training soon after. I turned 27 the month I started UPT. With only six months to spare, I would’ve never had another opportunity to start on the path that enabled me to achieve my dream of being a pilot.  

I’ve never looked back. I’ve loved it.