Making it: Jon Vanbragt '97

Take a young man who likes jets. “Fast jets,” he emphasizes and then punctuates that with, “fighter jets.” He grows up in southern Idaho, in a ski resort town, no less, with no real access to those fast fighter jets other than watching Top Gun reruns on TNT. Yes, this was the age before streaming and Netflix and Amazon Prime. This was before when people had to sit through commercials and wait until the next week for the next installment of something.

Back to jets and the young man who couldn’t get enough of them. Today, Jon Vanbragt is an Instructor Pilot with the United States Air Force and is currently based in Phoenix, Arizona. A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Jon has been flying the nation’s fastest, most versatile, and yes, fastest fighter jets since he graduated Navy Flight School (AKA Top Gun!). Today, he is flying and teaching others to fly “America’s newest stealth fighter: the F-35 Lightning II.” Bam. Take that Maverick. No fly-by needed.

Many people take a circuitous path throughout their careers. Not Jon. He knew early on that he wanted to fly those jets with which he was so enamored. Jon says that even though he had a singular vision since seeing his first fighter jet when he was a little Vanbragt, getting to the Naval Academy and to Navy Flight School is not a one-dimensional effort and his experience as a Cutthroat was an integral part of his journey. He says, “Sun Valley Community School offered me the opportunity to realize my objective: academically, physically, and civically.”

Jon says, “I’m a fighter pilot, an instructor, a Top Gun graduate...” but mostly, he says, “I’m a kid who loves jets. Fast jets. Fighter jets.” And as long as he can keep climbing the ladder to his jet, Jon knows that he’s “made it.”