NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- Growing up around small planes, it's no surprise that 23-year-old Staff Sgt. Ben Ayivorh, a dedicated crew chief assigned to the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron, developed an interest in aviation at an early age.
However, aside from his day-to-day job of maintaining aircraft, this Burke, Va., native spends his spare time as a pilot.
"I have been flying as long as I can remember," Ayivorh said. "My dad used to put a child seat in the airplane to take us flying."
Ayivorh said his father, born in Ghana, Africa, immigrated to the U.S. in the early 1970s and had a dream of becoming a pilot.
"He made his dreams his goal and succeeded," Ayivorh said. "Knowing what he went through to make his dreams a reality, I think my father made it a point to share what it was like to fly with me."
After graduating high school, Ayivorh attended Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where he majored in mechanical engineering. After realizing that he wanted to take a break from school, Ayivorh left ODU in good academic standing and enlisted in the Air Force. His first assignment as a crew chief led him to Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., where he started to pursue his private pilot's license.
"Growing up around flying, I assumed I would eventually obtain my pilot's license," he said. "It wasn't until I got to my first duty station when I realized I couldn't fly with my dad anymore. So, nine months after getting to Nellis(AFB), I obtained my pilot's license when I was 20 years old."
According to Ayivorh, he had to meet a requirement of obtaining a minimum of 40 hours of flight time. He spent 74 days flying in his spare time, until he became a qualified pilot.
"You have to fly at least 10 solo hours and 20 hours with an instructor," Ayivorh said. "There is a written exam you have to pass before you can fly on your own. Once my instructor believed I was ready, I had to fly a check ride with a (Federal Aviation Administration) examiner. I finished and qualified for my pilot's license within the minimum 40 hours required."
Since the cost to obtain a private pilot's license can get expensive, Ayivorh said he was motivated to finish as quickly as possible.
"You have to rent the plane and pay your instructor hourly for the flight time," he said. "Needless to say, the cost was great motivation for me to finish as quickly as possible."
Since obtaining his pilot's license, Ayivorh flies at least twice a month. He has flown four different air frames, including a Cirrus SR22. Within the past month, he earned a high performance rating, which allows him to fly aircraft with engines bigger than 200 horsepower.
Although he's been in the Air Force for less than four years and has only been assigned to Nellis AFB, Ayivorh has deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. He has also managed to travel to 12 different states and Canada, performing his official duties as a crew chief.
Maj. Tyler Ellison, a Thunderbird pilot, flies one of the jets that Ayivorh maintains. He said Ayivorh's experience as a civilian pilot brings a unique perspective to the squadron.
"As a civilian pilot, Ben is able to bridge the gap of maintenance procedures and flying operations," Ellison said. "If there is an issue with a jet, I can use pilot vernacular to describe the problem and Ben knows exactly what I'm talking about. He understands the constraints under which pilots operate and can relate to the amount of work it takes to fly a mission."
In addition to being a civilian pilot in his spare time, Ayivorh recently was awarded his Community College of the Air Force degree in Maintenance Aviation Technology, and he plans to pursue a bachelor's degree in professional aeronautics.
"I do feel that I am a little more prepared for college than I was the first time," he said. "Slowly, but surely, I will get there, even if I have to take one class at a time."
Ayivorh said that he wants to continue expanding his interest in flying, hoping someday to pilot a plane of his own.
"I fly for pure enjoyment," he said. "I don't want to be an airline pilot or fly as a job. For me, there isn't anything else like flying. Flying demands discipline, focus, commitment, responsibility, awareness and respect. I honestly believe the skill sets that are required to fly can also be applied to everyday life, and I think as a person it has shaped me a lot."