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Capt. George Bryan Houghton graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2002 and always wanted to be a military pilot, his father said Tuesday.
"Ever since he was a little fellow on my knee, he dreamed of being a pilot," George Houghton said in a telephone interview from the family's home in North Carolina.
George Houghton said his son was a skilled pilot, which makes his death in an F-16 crash late Monday at the Utah Test and Training Range even more difficult to fathom.
"It's a surprise to me," his dad said, adding he and his wife have not yet received any details from the Air Force about the possible cause of the crash. "They don't put dummies in F-16s."
The death is the second military-related tragedy for the Houghtons.
Two years ago, George Bryan Houghton's younger brother, Daniel, was seriously hurt in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan while serving in the Air Force. He is still recovering from his injuries.
George Bryan Houghton's 21-year-old brother, Patrick, is a cadet at the Air Force Academy.
George Houghton said that while he and his wife are having a tough time dealing with their son's death, they are buoyed by support from residents in Candler, a tiny hamlet near Asheville, N.C., and members of Trinity Baptist Church where they worship.
George Houghton also said he's proud of his son's service in the Air Force and praised those in the military who are dedicated to preserving the nation's freedom.
"He had a great sense of duty and desire (to protect the U.S.)," George Houghton said. "God bless all men and women in uniform."
George Bryan Houghton is also survived by his wife.