Flying high into the new year, our creative team recently caught up with Pilots Mark & Ashely Brown to discuss how growing up surrounded by Air force pilots not only sparked the love between them, but also inspired their dual career in Aviation! Read their exciting story interview below.

How did you get into flying? 

 Ashley – I grew up in a family of aviators. I am a third-generation pilot. My Grandfather flew C-46s and C-47’s during World War II over The Hump. He, sadly, passed away before I was born, but I grew up hearing all about his stories from my dad and seeing the amazing memorabilia he brought back from flying over the hump throughout India, Burma, and China. My Dad, purchased his first airplane, a Cessna 195 in his 20s. He always had a passion for anything that was vintage with a radial engine. As a baby boomer, there wasn’t a great path for him to become a professional pilot during his career. So, for him, aviation was always a passion that he did as a hobby. When I was six months old, he would put me in the back of the 195 and we would fly off to visit family or go on adventures. I guess you could say, I grew up living and breathing vintage airplanes and AvGas. When I was a teenager, my dad and I found a ’46 Piper Cub together. That eventually became the aircraft that I learned to fly in and soloed when I was 16. It was just natural that I learn to fly in a tailwheel aircraft because that was all that I knew growing up. As I became busier with high school and applying to colleges, Aviation was put on the back burner.

Mark – This one is complicated! The short version of the story is, I begin flying at age 13 after my parents gifted me a discovery flight. My dad was in the Air Force and is a Vietnam Vet. My half-brother is an Air Force Academy graduate and flew KC-135’s for the duration of his military career. Aviation was present in my family. I didn’t have many passions as a child, I played a few sports but nothing that was all-encompassing of my time. My parents were looking to fill my time with something that could be help me grow and help build my resume for college admissions. I soloed on my 16th birthday, but shortly after, I quit flying all together because it just wasn’t something I was passionate about at that time. I found new passions after high school, during my gap years, and throughout college. I didn’t really think about aviation again until a few years after I finished college. I met Ashley in college at TCU (Texas Christian University). A few months after we met, we found out that, in a previous life, we had both learned to fly. We actually had nearly identical stories, we both got to the point of soloing an airplane in high school, but for different reasons we both quit and never completed our PPL. Around our last year in college together,  she invited me to go to Houston for her Grandmother’s birthday. She told me that her dad was going to pick us up in his aircraft at the local airport. Having not thought about small airplanes in nearly a decade, it was quite a novel experience and opened my eyes to a world that I had closed off long ago. This was the first spark that got me thinking about being a pilot again. This was also the first flight that we shared together in a private aircraft. 

How did you rediscover your passion for aviation and turn it into a career? 
Mark – After graduating college, I worked in the financial world for a little while. Even though I loved finance and marketing, working in the industry was not something that I wanted to do long-term. Ashley graduated a few years after I did. Around that time, I was burnt out. I convinced Ashley that we should move to New Zealand once she graduated and be nomads, while we were young with no responsibilities. At this time, it wasn’t as common as it is today to just up and leave to become a “traveling social media influencer.” Social media was still in its infancy during this period, so we didn’t really know what we would find, but it felt like the right thing to do. 
Ashley – It wasn’t hard to convince me to move abroad. I studied in Italy during college and absolutely fell in love with travel. What better time to explore the world than when you are young, broke, and naïve to adulthood responsibilities?! We booked a one way ticket, had a working visa, and off we went. 
Mark – Once we got to New Zealand, we realized we had decided to move abroad during the depths of one of the worst global recessions the world had ever seen. Even though things will begin to get better in the US after 2008, the rest of the world was just feeling the effects of the recession when we began our travels. When the locals were not able to find work, there was not an abundance of jobs for ex-pats. This turned out to actually be one of the best things that could have happened. Since we couldn’t find much work, we decided to rent a small camper-van and see as much of New Zealand as we could before our money ran dry.  
Ashley – I always say, “It was the best trip that we never could’ve planned.”
Mark – Since we both had an aviation background, one of the things that we liked to do was visit the local airport and get to meet new people and see what kind of airplanes were based there. The beautiful thing about aviation, is no matter where you go in the world, pilots are passionate aviators and will welcome a foreign passionate aviator with open arms. We found a niche of friends that most working tourists wouldn’t have ever found. In the city where we spent most of our time, Wanaka, on the south island, we met some wonderful people that ran a local flight school and a scenic flying tour company.
Ashley - They had old vintage, World War II era airplanes which immediately attracted me. Over the course of a few weeks, we got to know them very well and were lucky enough to do some flights with them. This was the tipping point for Mark and me to really start considering aviation as a career. As money was running low, we knew that we would have to start planning our next chapter. We looked at one another and asked, “What are our passions? How can we make a passion into a career?” At that point in our life, we realized we both had been running away from aviation for over decade… Yet, it kept finding us in the most unexpected times and places. We couldn’t deny that this was for a reason… Ultimately we were passionate about aviation, the friends we had made an aviation over the years, and traveling the world and meeting new people and exploring new cultures. What better job to get to do all of these things, then becoming a Pilot? The decision for the next chapter was easy, become pilots and try and make it into a career. 
Mark – Once we were completely out of money overseas, we both moved back to Texas and jumped feet first into learning to fly and collecting our ratings. As college graduates, we had to take a few steps backwards, move back in with my in-laws to save as much money as possible, and work odd jobs to help pay for flying lessons. We were extremely lucky we had family and were awarded scholarships to help us financially. And the rest is history… here we are 10 years later living a life we never could have envisioned. 
How did you come across the Cockpit USA brand? 
Around 2013, we met a group of people in Florida at one of the large airshows. We immediately hit it off with the group and became fast friends. One of the people in the group was S. Clyman. That formed into a long-term friendship which blossomed into a healthy love of all things Cockpit USA.  
Which Cockpit USA styles do you wear? And how do you wear them? 
Mark – My favorite jacket at the moment is the Avenger G-1 Bomber Jacket. I love the vintage, worn in feel and it’s a perfectly tailored fit. In the winter months I wear my B-3 Hooded Sheepskin Bomber – there is nothing as warm, or as cool looking, as a traditional sheepskin. For everyday wear, I love the M-86 Flight Bomber Jacket – the nylon finish is durable and it’s a great weight for wearing around Texas on a regular basis. 
Ashley – On a daily basis I wear the Men’s M-86. When I’m flying or going on trips, I absolutely love my Women’s G-1 Jacket – it’s the softest leather and is perfectly fitted. When I’m flying my Piper Cub in the winter months, I love the Sapphire Blue Parka or the B-3 hooded Bomber Sheepskin – both are extremely warm and perfect for those cold, open cockpit, flying days. 
Share something about the other that they wouldn’t normally say about themselves?  
Ashley – Mark is the man of many lives. In most occasions, social media is the highlight reel of someone’s life – only the good things are shown. In Mark’s case, what people see on social media is only 30% of what he actually does. He is probably one of the few people (that are active on social media) that lives a much more interesting life than what is portrayed online (and his “online life” seems pretty great!).
Mark – Ashley is extremely humble and doesn’t publicly share much about her aviation accomplishments, but she has many. She has more tailwheel time than a lot of pilots have total time, including quite a bit of time in a Twin Beech (Beech 18). Professionally, she has amassed 6 type ratings. She was the 3nd female outside of Gulfstream to get her type rating in the GVII (G7) which is for the brand new Gulfstream G500/G600 (and eventual G700).
What can we look forward to seeing from you in 2022?
God willing, many more adventures, new airplanes, new places, new faces, and new Cockpit USA jackets!
Follow Mark & Ashley on Instagram @worldofmark & @ashley_s_atkinson