Relaxing in an office chair sporting a “Top Gun” baseball cap, Ken Jackson recounts his experiences as a World War II veteran. Tom Cruise aside, North American Top Gun has given soldiers, such as Jackson, and civilians alike the chance to experience what it was like for the U.S. Naval Air Corps.
Born July 2, 1925 on his parent’s farm in Whitley County, Jackson had little expected his high-flying future. In his younger years, he had attended Larwill elementary and secondary schools, graduating at 18 years of age, along with the class of 1943.
With conflict raging overseas, Jackson decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, however the injuries suffered from a train accident prevented his acceptance. He thereafter enlisted with the Navy. Jackson underwent training at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Memphis, Tennessee Radar School, Navy Pier, and Washington State, specializing in aircraft mechanics. He got his start working on and fixing bomber aircraft, but then later became part of an air squadron. Jackson took his place as a gunman in a three-person warplane, but was also trained to fly if any harm came to the pilot. His first flight was out of Arlington, WA, but he usually flew out of Guam.
Jackson was released from the Navy in 1946, and returned home to Whitley County. Taking an auto repair job at Arnold’s Oil Company, he acclimated himself to a more quiet lifestyle.
In the early 1950s he took flying lessons on the side and acquired his pilot’s license. Also in the 50s, Jackson took another job as a sales representative at Armour Meat Packing industries, which for a brief period, moved him and his family to Pontiac, Michigan
In 1975 Jackson purchased a Cessna 175 airplane on a whim and put his license to good use. Moving for a final time back to Waynedale, Jackson pursued many other career endeavors taking him up to his present retired status. However, despite his eventful past, one aspect remained constant: his passion for flying.
In November of 2005, Jackson’s newly wedded wife, Frieda Maye Key-Jackson, heard about the North American Top Gun organization and seized the opportunity for an once-in-a-lifetime Christmas gift. “It’s not often we get a Christmas present like that, it was just absolutely great,” said Jackson. So, at 10:15am on June 2, 2006, Jackson was once again reunited with the atmosphere in an AT-6 aircraft, resembling the one he flew in the Navy.
“It had been 40 years…” Said Jackson, “The stick was still there…it was all the same.”
Unfortunately, Jackson was hesitant to allow his instructor to try any tricks or barrel rolls. “I could kick myself for not letting him turn it loose.”
Overall Jackson’s experience seems to be a memorable one, “It was a trip down memory lane for him,” said Key-Jackson.