Holcomb living out his childhood dream

Holcomb living out his childhood dream


FLORA — Twenty-two-year-old Karlton Holcomb is living out his childhood dream of becoming a pilot, having recently joined the ranks of corporate pilots at Wheels Up, one of the largest private aviation companies in the world.

Holcomb hails from a long line of aviators, with his late grandfather Rudy Holcomb, father Karl Holcomb, and uncle Brad Holcomb all seasoned pilots, making him the third generation to pursue the profession in his family.

"My dad has had the biggest impact on my career," he said. "I've been around airplanes since I was a kid. By the time I was 3 or 4 years old, I knew exactly what I wanted to do the rest of my life."

Both his father and grandfather are agricultural pilots, also known as "crop dusters.” The Holcombs own Holcomb Aerial Services, established by his grandfather in 1962.

Karlton Holcomb's journey into aviation began early. He first soloed in an airplane when he was 16, earned his private pilot license at 17, obtained his instrument rating at 18, commercial license and Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) at 20, CFII at 21, and BE300 type rating at 22.

“What got me in the corporate side was the want to see everything I can while I’m young,” he said. “I can’t stop working. As much as I try to sit down, I don’t do very well with it.”

During his freshman year at Mississippi State University, Holcomb took a hiatus from flying for six months to undergo basic training. He serves as a crew chief on a C-17 aircraft with the 172nd National Guard Unit out of Jackson.

While at Mississippi State, he became a pilot instructor, teaching at Circle S Aviation under Part 61 regulations. He later transferred to Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Florida, to pursue a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and expects to graduate in December.

Holcomb describes Wheels Up as "Uber but with airplanes” and said they have a mobile app which is convenient for booking flights. 

The company, majority-owned by Delta Airlines, boasts a growing fleet, including over 30 King Airs, 15 Citations, and 10-15 Citation X's.

Since joining Wheels Up three months ago, Holcomb has traveled extensively, from Atlanta for company training, to Savannah for emergency training, Dallas for ATP/CTP, and Teterboro, NJ for BE300-type school.

“It’s steadily growing and is a good place to get your foot in the door,” Holcomb said. “If the company grows it will be a good place to stay.”

Holcomb said he appreciates Wheels Up's impactful missions, such as their pink airplane supporting breast cancer and a camouflage aircraft dedicated to veterans.

For him, the best part of being a corporate pilot is the personal interactions with passengers.

“It’s a service industry,” Holcomb said. “When people book a flight, they want to be taken care of. When they have a good flight, enjoy it, and want to come back it’s rewarding. Getting to put a smile on someone’s face is worth a million dollars.”

Corporate pilots can go anywhere without set routes and can fly someone to specific places they couldn’t get to on a typical airline, he said. 

“I’ve always wanted to work hard and I’m always thinking about what comes next,” Holcomb said. “I have fun don’t get me wrong but there’s time I’ve had to choose this over that. You have to be dedicated.”

A goal close to Holcomb's heart is continuing to teach aspiring aviators in the future.

“I want to be a mentor for people,” he said. “I loved being an instructor because I could teach people. I could share my own experiences, my grandad’s and dad’s experiences, and stories that were passed down. It’s really rewarding to see someone grab it and enjoy it.”

Holcomb credits his family for their unwavering support during difficult times and stress that can occur within his profession. 

“My family has always supported me,” he said. “When I’ve had a bad day on the road, I can always call my family and my girlfriend. I definitely could not do this alone.”

Holcomb’s advice to aspiring pilots is simple yet profound.

“Keep your head down and work, because it will eventually pay off in the long run,” he said. “Don’t ever look back and keep walking forward.”

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