Flying the T-1A Jayhawk a family tradition for Vance student pilot

Second Lt. Brenna Larson (left), a student pilot assigned to the 71st Student Squadron at Vance Air Force Base and her father, Bruce Mason, a T-1A Jayhawk simulator instructor at Vance, in the cockpit of a T-1A. (U.S. Air Force photo/ Senior Airman Taylor Crul)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — Life is a journey, filled with twists and turns that lead to many different places.

For 2nd Lt. Brenna Larson, a student pilot assigned to the 71st Student Squadron, her journey to pilot training had more than a few twists. But no matter where her feet took her, the sky was where she always looked.

Growing up in Enid, Larson was no stranger to the flying community. Her father, Bruce Mason, is a T-1A Jayhawk simulator instructor assigned to the 71st Operations Group here.

He graduated from pilot training at Vance in 1975, was an instructor pilot here in the 1980s, then came back to be a T-1 simulator instructor in the 1990s. From here he became an airline pilot, and after aging out he returned to Vance as a T-1 simulator instructor.

So Larson’s love of flying was almost ingrained in her.

“I still remember my discovery flight in a Cessna back when I was 13 years old,” said Larson. However, becoming a pilot was a goal she neither wanted to pursue nor believed possible.

“I have always enjoyed the idea of flying,” said Larson. “I just never thought it would be a career for me.”

Larson said she grew up wanting to go into the medical field. She went as far as to get a degree in microbiology from Oklahoma State University with the goal of becoming a doctor or nurse. Throughout her time in college something was always in the back of her mind -- her love of flying.

After graduating from college, she started nursing school. Finally, she was in the medical field, learning to do what she wanted to do.

“I went to nursing school for a semester, but I had flying in the back of my mind the entire time,” said Larson. “I enjoyed nursing, but it just was not my passion.”

After leaving nursing school, Larson came back home to Enid, where she met her husband, now Capt. Matthew Larson, a pilot currently assigned to the 9th Special Operations Squadron, Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico. At the time she met him, he was a T-1A Jayhawk instructor pilot at Vance.

It seems as though Larson could never truly get away from the flying community. And being back around the flying community again was the final push needed to pursue becoming a pilot.

“It opened my eyes to an idea I thought not possible,” said Larson.

Larson soon found herself in a recruiter’s office going through the process of becoming a pilot in the U.S. Air Force Reserve. Larson made it through Officer Training School, completed survival school, and was back where her love of flying began. She was back home.

“When I found I was going back to Vance for pilot training I was ecstatic,” said Larson.

Since November of 2019 when she started pilot training, Larson says that every new day brings fresh challenges. Now in the third phase of her training, flying the T-1, she partially attributes her success to the support system she has around her.

“How many other student pilots going through training have their father just a few buildings over who can help if I don’t understand something, a husband on speed dial who was a prior T-1 instructor pilot, and a mom I can go home to and vent about my day,” said Larson.

Larson’s journey to pilot training has been anything but typical. She has a few more challenges to face before earning her wings. But with her support team, she’ll overcome each and every one of them.

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