Alumni Spotlight: Bradley Raybeck ’90

Wife April Raybeck, SWA President of Flight Operations Alan Kasher, and 2018 President Award recipient Bradley Raybeck

Bradley Raybeck (’90) was recently was honored in April 2019 at Southwest Corporate Headquarters in Dallas, Texas as a recipient of the Southwest Airlines 2018 President’s Award. He was selected from a pool of 10,862 pilots as one of the two top Captains and three First Officers to receive the award.

Bradley attended Southern Illinois University in Carbondale (SIUC) between 1990 and 1995.  He graduated Summa Cum Laude with an Associate Degree in Aviation Flight and a Bachelor degree in Aviation Management.  He also graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Masters degree in Workforce Education.

We reached out to Bradley to hear about the inspiration behind his career, as well as his accomplishments along the way.

What was your journey from college to becoming a pilot?

After I graduated from SIUC, I needed to build those “coveted” flight hours to gain meaningful employment.  Therefore, I packed up my little Toyota pickup and drove 33 hours from Carbondale, Illinois to Las Vegas to become a Grand Canyon Air Tour Pilot.  I operated sight seeing tours six days a week over the North, West, and South rims of the Grand Canyon amassing almost 1,000 flight hours.

With almost 1,500 hours of flight time, I was hired by Great Lakes Airlines (United Express) flying passengers into Denver, Chicago O’Hare, and Minneapolis.  I flew as both First Officer and Captain for just over two years.

Upon reaching the minimum 2,500 hours in 1998, I was hired by AirTran Airways based in Atlanta, GA.  In 2001, I upgraded to Captain on the DC-9.  I continued to progress and was promoted to Boeing 717 Captain in 2007.  Finally in 2008, I made Captain on the Boeing 737 and was promoted to Instructor Pilot, Evaluator, and Check Airman.

In 2013, I transitioned to Southwest Airlines (company buy-out of AirTran) and am currently a Captain based in Atlanta, GA.  In 2018, I was selected a SWA President Award winner for my volunteer work, dedication to the company, and recommendations by peers, co-workers, supervisors, and managers.  Of the 10,000 plus pilots of SWA, I was one of five honored with this award….the highest award given by SWA.

What inspired you to be a pilot?

The inspiration to become a pilot began with an FPDS teacher assigning a “Career” paper which involved interviewing someone in our “chosen dream” field.  I interviewed a military Captain who commanded a United States Air Force KC-135 refueling aircraft in Warner Robins GA.  His love of flying encouraged me to set “lofty” goals and dreams!

What do you enjoy most about your career?

There are many facets of my job that I adore and never get old.  First, I have the ability to see God’s hand in the sky everyday with ever-changing sunrises and sunsets.  Second, I get to travel the globe to many exotic and fun destinations.  Third, I get to interact with all walks of life taking them to see loved ones, celebrating special occasions, saying their goodbyes to loved ones, and letting children (as well as adults) learn about airplanes and get cool photos on the flight deck.  Lastly, I get to operate near-100 million dollar machines as Captain safely at altitudes eight miles above the ground at speeds over 600 miles per hour.

Can you give some more details on President’s Award and what that accomplishment means?

As stated earlier, I was a 2018 Southwest Airline President Award winner. Each year, our company seeks out to find those who have whole heartedly given themselves to the betterment of the company and its people.  For 2018, my wife April and I were honored to travel to SWA company headquarters in Dallas, TX to receive this award.  It was an amazing gala where we had lunch with the CEO and Chairman Gary Kelly and Airline President Tom Nealon.  At the time, SWA had over 10,000 pilots and only five were chosen in 2018 for this prestigious award.  We were, and continue to be, ever so grateful for this commendation and recognition.

How do you feel FPD provided a strong foundation for your life?

I cannot say enough about the importance of  “foundations” when building a young person’s life.  Without such bedrocks, we can shift and sink and slide.  My acceptance and eventual graduation from FPDS molded, shaped, and solidified my foundation.  It began in the classroom with educators that truly sought out the best in their students.  It continued in the weight room during summer football practice that quitting is never an option, that hard work, sweat, and tears is always rewarded, and that faith in God above will help you overcome any obstacle in your life.  My teachers, coaches, and principal always believed in me.  For those reasons, my FPDS diversified high school achievements carried into my young adult life and professional career (1990 State Champions in the Boys Quartet, 1990 State Champion Track-Pole Vault, 1989 State Runner Up GISA Football Class AAA, etc).

Any advice for FPD students who are considering being a pilot one day?

For students seeking an aviation career, all I can say is “The sky is the limit!”  There are amazing career fields in aviation for managers, planners, mechanics, pilots, flight attendants, etc.  These positions can take you around the world and back again.  In the end I can say this….I read a quote at FPDS when I was a sophomore.  It said this, “There are many things in life that will catch your eye, but only a few of those will catch your heart….pursue those.”  Truer words have not been spoken.  Put God first, help others every chance you get, and know that this is a beautiful life for those who chose to live it!