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Bangladesh Native Fulfills Dream of Being an Air Force Pilot

  • Published
  • By Maj. Imran Khan
  • 19th Air Force

When I had the opportunity to visit my family a few years ago, I couldn't help but reflect on my family's journey. Thanks to the hard work and sacrifice of my family, I have the opportunity to serve as a pilot in the United States Air Force.

My family is from a small country called Bangladesh, which is located east of India. My extended family lives in small villages in the middle of the jungle and they have none of the amenities we enjoy in America. When I visited, it felt like I teleported to a world out of National Geographic. The village had no electricity, no telephone, no clean water, and a very low literacy rate. Over a meal of rice from the local rice paddy (served on a banana leaf because they don't have plates), I was asked, what I wanted to do for a living.  

I struggled to explain that I wanted to be an Air Force pilot. It’s not that my family wasn't intelligent enough to understand, but it's baffling to a villager, who doesn't have electricity, to understand the intricacies of a $340 million C-17 Globemaster. It's equally unfathomable to explain how lucky I am. My story is only possible because of my family’s hard work.

My grandfather was born and raised in the village of Bethagi. He grew up as a farmer, but after losing cattle to tiger attacks, he moved to the capital city of Dhaka to find a better opportunity for himself and my grandmother. What money he earned, he sent to support his family. As a result, my parents also grew up in extreme poverty. For much of their lives, my parents had no electricity, no running water, and few opportunities. Through a lot of hard work, some luck, and multiple attempts, my father eventually earned the opportunity to leave Bangladesh.

My father has an incredible story. Despite growing up poor, he taught himself to speak English and later earned a doctorate degree in pharmacy. His education earned him the opportunity to immigrate to America. Unfortunately, once my father was finally approved to immigrate, his employer in America couldn't provide fund the travel costs for our family. Determined to pursue the chance for a better life, my father moved to America without his family and he worked for free. In America, he worked additional jobs at night and after a few years, brought my mother and I from Bangladesh. My father left his entire family for an indefinite time without any money, traveling to a land where he didn't speak the language and didn’t have a place to stay. His story speaks volumes about the lengths people will go for the incredible opportunity to live in America. I owe so much to my father.

After a few years in America, my father saved enough money to fly the three of us back to Bangladesh to visit my grandparents. When I was young, there weren't any restrictions on who could enter the cockpit, so during a long flight across the ocean, a flight attendant asked if I wanted to look in the cockpit. Little did she know, she would change the trajectory of my life. Once I stepped inside the cockpit, I was mesmerized by being in the clouds.

At that moment, I knew I wanted to be a pilot for the rest of my life. As I grew up, I realized that I specifically wanted to become a military pilot. The high standards, discipline and sense of purpose attracted me to a career in the military. In high school, I worked hard, but I didn't score well enough on the SAT for United States Air Force Academy admission.

Although not getting into the Air Force Academy was a setback, I learned you could also compete for a pilot slot through Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. While in the University of Utah ROTC program, I learned about the pilot selection process, Air Force Officer Qualifying Test (AFOQT) and Test of Basic Aviation Skills (TBAS) that make up your Pilot Candidate Selection Method (PCSM) score. The PCSM score, plus the commander's ranking, physical fitness score and field training performance were used to calculate a raw score for each candidate.


Although I performed well on the TBAS, I bombed the AFOQT. Unfortunately, my PCSM score was a 47 out of 100. Things were not looking good for Cadet Khan's pilot aspirations. Although my poor PCSM score was another setback, the ROTC commandant of cadets told me that flight hours would help raise my PCSM score. This created an additional challenge because, like most college students, I had no money. Determined, I found the local university had an aviation program where flight time with an instructor was $182 per hour, a small fortune for me. I picked up a job doing landscaping that paid $10 an hour. After fighting the sun and digging ditches in the heat of Utah for many months, I finally saved enough money to earn my private pilot's license and I raised my PCSM score to an acceptable level. A few months later, I was selected as a pilot candidate. Since then, I've been fortunate to have an incredible career, with the opportunity to serve as a C-17 evaluator pilot and a T-6 instructor pilot.

Although I experienced some setbacks, they pale in comparison to my family’s hardships. But through those hardships, I am lucky enough to live in America and serve in the United States Air Force. I am deeply indebted to my grandparents and parents, who sacrificed so much so I could live the American dream.

Khan is currently the 19th Air Force chief of special projects, where he executes 19th Air Force commander projects, coordination and executive support in the Air Force’s largest numbered Air Force.