Ruben Flowers is the patriarch of his family and the forefather of an aviation legacy that has spanned generations, reports ABC 7 news.
Growing up in Michigan during the 1960s and 1970s, Flowers recalls falling in love with aviation when he was just a child.
“A pilot one day asked me if I wanted to come up to the cockpit. And I did it. And oh, my God, it was like the bug bit me – I wanted to be a pilot. And from that point on, I just focused on being an airline pilot,” recalled the elder Flowers.
That one decision changed the trajectory of his life, with Flowers eventually becoming a pilot. But wasn’t the only one in his family to become a pilot. His brother, his brother’s son, his cousin, and all three of the elder Flowers children are pilots, making for seven Flowers pilots in total.
Recently, Ruben’s son, who is also named Ruben Flowers, was going through some old photos at his grandmother’s house. Ruben came across a nostalgic photo from 1994. It was his father, sitting in the cockpit as a pilot, with him as a toddler looking on lovingly in admiration. The photo had all been forgotten. But coming across the image made the younger Ruben remember, realizing how inspiring his father had been to him his whole life.
Ruben recalled all of their trips to the airport, going with his Dad to the training center, and how proud he was when his dad would show up for career day. Now 30 years old and preparing for his new role as First Officer for Southwest Airlines, Ruben saw a unique opportunity to recreate that nostalgic moment as his father neared his retirement and final Southwest flight as Captain.
“It was a dream of mine to make it to this point to fly with my dad, it was probably my number one aviation goal,” Ruben told reporters.
It took some coordinating, but in March 2023, as the elder Flowers prepared for his final flight, piloting a plane from Omaha, Nebraska, to his home of Chicago, Illinois, the father-son duo finally got the opportunity to fly together. Ruben sat right by his side as first officer, making for a full circle moment for the two. And they made sure to recreate their iconic throwback photo. But this time as father, son, and co-pilots.
“That was an awesome feeling. To look over there and see my son, next to me, for my last landing,” said Ruben. “It was a dream come true moment.”
The two were even able to announce what was happening to their passengers, with plan erupting in applause as they landed. Flowers’ brother and his cousin, also pilots for Southwest, were also able to join the flight. The younger Ruben said the moment felt like any other father-and-son activity. But he admits that he wanted to impress his dad. And the elder Flowers said he understood that this was a once-in-a-lifetime moment to teach his son his expertise from the cockpit.
“It just worked out smooth and naturally , and it went great,” said Ruben.
Flowers has now retired and is grateful for that final moment with his son. In reflecting on his time with Southwest, he recalled his own mentor, Louis Freeman, the first Black pilot for Southwest Airlines who helped him along his career path. Flowers has done for others what Freeman did for him, participating in the Adopt-A-Pilot program, inspiring elementary children to get into aviation, and serving as a veteran member of the Organization of Black Aerospace Professionals (OBAP) — where he empowers Black aviators. Flowers hopes he can continue that work and that his son will do the same as he follows in his footsteps.
“[Freeman] was a mentor to me. And now I’m trying to be a mentor to others. And I hope my son can be a mentor to others, not just family members,” said Flowers.
Now that Ruben has achieved his goal of flying with his father, he hopes to do the same one day with his younger brother. And he has already had the honor of flying with his sister some years ago.
Ruben’s father said he can’t wait to see the day the brothers fly together and is immensely proud of his children.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s an awesome feeling to know that my son is flying, and my daughter and my youngest son, all three of them are flyers,” said Ruben.
Photo by Southwest Airlines