For Young Pilot, Perseverance Pays Off


Ryan Raffo, a native of Laguna Beach and 2010 graduate of Laguna Beach High School, has always loved planes.

As a child, he “flew” toy jets, imitating the engine sounds. At 12 he got his own flight simulator. His dad, Coleman Raffo, recalls his son’s response to a call for dinner: “I’ll be right there, I’m landing in Denver and it’s snowing!”

Ryan Raffo at 12 learning to fly.
Ryan Raffo at 12 learning to fly.

On his 13th birthday, Raffo’s godfather gave him a gift certificate for a private flying lesson at John Wayne Airport; a 10-week flying class followed.

After LBHS, Raffo aimed to attend the Naval Academy, because it offered the best opportunity to fulfill his dream of getting into the Navy’s flight school. His plan took a detour because of calculus. To stay on course to Annapolis he switched to statistics in order to maintain his 3.88 G.P.A.

Raffo played baseball and football and was an all CIF academic athlete. In his senior year, even with leadership awards from the Model UN organization, he learned that the lack of calculus made him ineligible for admittance to the Naval Academy.

Ryan Raffo at a Marine Academy dance.
Ryan Raffo at a Marine Academy dance.

One month later, though, the devastated Raffo was offered a slot at the United States Merchant Marine Academy because of his football abilities. His plebe year was tough juggling his football commitment with academic requirements but the flight school dream was still alive. He was elected class president in his second year and began his final run at his ultimate goal, naval flight school.

On June 21, Raffo, 22, will graduate from the Merchant Marine Academy, in Kings Point, N.Y., which requires a five-year commitment of service. Earlier this month, he realized his bigger pursuit: acceptance into the Navy’s flight school, which will add another five years to his military service.

“His mother and I are extremely proud of our son and his tendency to overcome the setbacks and follow his heart to fly fighter jets for his country. It’s wonderful to be a part of a young patriot’s pursuit of his dream…,” said his father.

Ryan Raffo at Pax River Naval Test site in Maryland where he had an internship.
Ryan Raffo at Pax River Naval Test site in Maryland where he had an internship.
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