A once 12-year-old boy, Dexter English, became acquainted with a Syracuse resident and pilot, Darrel Dikeman, learning he had a Beechcraft Bonanza airplane, “I basically begged him for a ride,” said English, “And of course Darrel said, sure come on up! I remember vividly that he allowed me to fly the airplane, that’s where that flame started.”
English remembers having an interest in aviation, “But I wasn’t really sure. It was a place I was unfamiliar with since there weren’t any pilots in my family, but by the time I got back from my ride with Darrel, I decided I loved it. It was that quick!” 
Darrel Dikeman was the son of Fred and Martha, longtime residents of Hamilton County. Darrel and his wife Lois raised their three children, Sandy, Gene, and Cary in Syracuse.
Today, English is a pilot for Southwest Airlines, carrying passengers to their many destinations. He attributes his success in the aviation industry to several local residents, the first was Darrel which led him to contacting Syracuse Airport manager and flight instructor, Steve Phillips for lessons, then a job with then Syracuse Flying Service owner, Dusty Dowd, and encouragement from another local resident who flies commercially, Jeff Davis. 
“That’s the neat thing about all of this, all the groundwork was done at our local airport, but it’s so much more than that, the community aspect of Syracuse and the people who are willing to reach out and go the extra mile to help kids like me,” said English. 
English, at the age of 14 was able to start formal flight training with Phillips and took his solo flight the day he turned 16, September 20, 2012. “It was an awesome feeling but still nerve-racking.” 
English explained according to Federal Aviation Association (FAA) rules, you can solo at 16, but cannot get your private license until you are 17. “Fortunately, a plane was available at the airport but for the first several years, an hour of flying was hard to come by. It was expensive, but I needed to continue training with Steve.” 
English was born in a small town near San Antonio, Tex. His parents, Wade and Marleen English, relocated to Syracuse when Dexter was ten. He graduated from Syracuse High School in 2015 and continued his education in aviation for three semesters at K-State Salina. 
“Although I did not finish, I can honestly say I continued my education, returning to Syracuse, working with Dusty Dowd at Syracuse Flying Service,” said English. “Instead of paying a bunch of money to go to college, I was able to receive an education right here, and get paid.”
During his first two years with SFS, he learned the ground side of things, mixing, loading, cleaning windshields, “Whatever it took to make the business operate,” he said. After a couple years, he was able to begin spraying, “That’s when I began accumulating hours and all the groundwork essentially began to pay off.” 
During that time, English was able to fly Dowd’s Piper Super Cub. “He made it available to me and that was very helpful. It was an awesome position to be in, working for Dusty and spraying for three seasons.”  
After leaving SFS, English began flying for a regional carrier. “That was the groundwork as far as the airlines go, that’s where I learned to fly a jet in one year.” While doing that, he was flying a private airplane for a local business, Holstein Supply, flying cross country, into busier airspaces, which allowed him to see a whole another aspect of aviation.
Next, the fourth person from Syracuse helped English on his career path, Jeff Davis, son of Mark and Donna Davis. “Jeff has been an outstanding mentor, given me great advice from the flying service to the airline industry.” 
“I don’t know how it happened, having the opportunity to fly for Southwest. It’s not usual, but with the pilot shortage, people are hiring and the timing worked out really well. I applied for Southwest this spring, interviewed in June, and started the end of September,” said English. 
English’s initial draw to Southwest was the values of the company, “They began as a small mom and pop with a few 737s and their route was what they called the Texas Triangle, from Dallas to Houston to San Antonio. That is all they did.” 
They have continued to grow financially and are well known for never furloughing a pilot, “That is unheard of,” said English, “They have 13,000 pilots, half of which are Captains and they operate on the same fleet so that allows a lot of schedule flexibility. This is huge for me, allowing me to stay here in Syracuse.”
English explained they can trade and swap trips with the pilot group, because Southwest has the same exact airplane, Boeing 737, in their fleet. “If you think about the major airlines, they have Air Buses, Boeings, big planes, little planes, even though the total number of pilots is the same, they may have seven to eight different airplanes and you would have to divide the pilot number so that limits the schedule trading.” 
His schedule is usually three to four days within a trip, departing from Denver, flying two to four legs, depending on the length, “The idea is to fly eight hours a day and Southwest is good about trip efficiency, my ideal trip is two to four legs a day.”  
English stays with the same captain each trip, meeting about thirty minutes before the plane needs to leave and they prepare the plane for takeoff. “It is a very standardized process, the same for everybody. It is part of the efficiency, safety and it keeps everyone on track. I know my task, he or she knows their task. I do mine, I verify they are doing theirs, and vice versa.” 
English encourages kids or adults to reach out to him if they are interested in a career in the aviation industry. “It’s possible, there are several flight instructors right here in our community,” adding, “I feel very fortunate, I think our education system here helped push me in the correct position.” 
English is also a family man, marrying a hometown girl, Brandee (Reist) who is a physicians assistant at Hamilton County Family Practice. They became more acquainted after she finished PA school. “She was working in a clinic in Augusta and after a few dates I learned she too wanted to return to Syracuse.” They married and now have two girls aged four and two. 
When they have some free time, they enjoy spending time with their families here in Syracuse and going to the girls’ grandparents farm, Henry and Cathy Herrmann, riding horses and playing with all the animals. “We’re lucky to have our families here to spend time with.” 
And who knows, next time you fly Southwest Airlines, departing out of Denver, or quite possibly on another leg of your trip, you may have a hometown kid in the cockpit.   


Photos courtesy of Brandee English/Rick Dikeman/ Sandy Parkins




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