Saturday, September 7, 2013

East Gaston grad perseveres to become Navy pilot

Courtland Savage used to be afraid of flying.

He'd never had his first flight until 2008, when he was starting his senior year of high school at East Gaston High.

Today, at 22, he's an officer in the Navy and in pilot training.

Courtland, from Mount Holly, said he never would've stepped foot in a plane if it hadn't been for a teacher who said he and his classmates needed to seriously consider their futures.

He said he always wanted to be a train conductor, but discovered that wouldn't be a sustainable living. That's when he considered the military, and his love for planes from afar. He recalled enjoying trips from Mount Holly to Charlotte with his dad and watching airplanes from Charlotte-Douglas International.

"I'd sit in the car and watch planes go off," he said. "I always thought they were cool."

So Courtland went to a flight school in Lincolnton to face his fear. "I realized that's what I wanted to do. I fell in love with it."

Courtland took out a loan to pay for flight school (that he's since paid back) and earned his private pilot's license in December 2008. A couple of months later, he finished high school early and joined the Air Force.

He trained in San Antonio ("The first day or so was just terrible, I didn't see myself making  it all the way"), and then technical school, and then he worked in C-17 maintenance in Charleston.

In Charleston, Courtland began earning his bachelor's degree in aeronautics, and graduated in July 2012.

Then came the time to take aptitude tests to qualify for air training in the Air Force. Courtland didn't pass the first test, and he took it a second time without passing again.

But he wasn't deterred. After looking into the Air National Guard, a recruiter told him the Navy was looking for pilots. He'd just have to pass the test, which includes math, reading comprehension and aviation questions.

Courtland tried the Navy's test twice and didn't pass. But he still didn't give up.

After three weeks of non-stop studying, Courtland took the Navy's test a third time (the maximum number of times the test can be taken). And he passed. "I knew it was my last chance," he said.

Photos courtesy Angela Savage
Courtland was honorably discharged from the Air Force and enlisted in the Navy. After officer training in Rhode Island, he is now in flight training in Pensacola, Fla. Courtland said he's loving learning to fly, and is excited for the next adventure. He's also glad he persevered.

"I knew it's what I wanted to do, and I didn't want to do anything else, so I knew I had to try my hardest and keep going at it and keep studying."