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Navy pilot killed in training exercise ‘packed more life in 29 years than most could ever imagine,’ family says

A folded flag sits on a casket during ceremonial funeral training at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., Feb. 22, 2016. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman Sadie Colbert/Released)

Navy pilot Lt. Richard “Max” Bullock was a fearless dreamer.

Bullock was born in Butte on Feb. 13, 1993, to Robin and Bill Bullock. He was 29 years old and had been in the military for seven years when he died near Trona, California on June 3, after the FA-18 Super Hornet he was flying crashed during a training exercise.

For Bullock, being in the Navy was a step toward his goal of becoming an astronaut so he could one day mine asteroids in space, according to his family.

Max’s father, Bill, said this was a dream Max held since his second year of college at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where he graduated in fall 2015 with degrees in business management and global logistics and supply chain management according to commencement documents from UAA.

In 2020, he enrolled at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and started pursuing a second degree in aerospace engineering, a degree he was still working toward when he died. He first started working toward a degree in space mining at the Colorado School of Mines, but put it on hold until he could complete his engineering degree.

According to Bill, Max dreamed of mining in space and building a moon station as a base since he was a sophomore in college.

The thing about Max was not only did he dream big, but he formulated step-by step plans to achieve those dreams, according to an obituary written by his family.

“There’s just nothing that wasn’t possible in his mind,” Bill said. “He didn’t understand traditional barriers and constraints.”

Max loved the stars, and looking at them through his telescope. One day, Bill said, Max was at his family’s home in Condon, Montana, waiting to hear if he’d gotten into Naval Aviation Schools Command in Pensacola, Florida, and didn’t like that all the trees were keeping him from seeing the stars.

So he built a platform 60-feet off the ground between two of the trees. Bill said he remembers handing him boards up from the ground. To get to the top of the platform, Max used ropes, and although the rest of the family wanted to join him, going up there was a different story.

“The thought of the rest of us going up there was pretty harrowing,” Robin said. So, Max built a ladder carved with the words “The Ladder of Destiny.”

Robin said the title was symbolic for how Max believed you could achieve anything by working hard and doing the best you could.

Bill said one of his favorite stories he’d heard from Max’s college friends was from his sophomore year at the UAA, when Max made a business plan as part of a class project and created a draft outline of what it would take to mine in space.

To kick-start things, Bill said, Max had plans of starting a GoFundMe, and even had the idea for a reality show, “Space Cowboys.”

“He promised to take me up, first trip,” Bill said.

This entrepreneurial spirit was something that was natural to Max, according to his family. As early as four years old, he was charging employees of his father’s business, Pioneer Technical Services, a five-cent toll to get upstairs to their attic where the business operated at the time. He later learned his dad had a jar of coins for the employees to use for the toll.

When he was 15, he started his own business, Bullock Networks LLC., which served as sort of an umbrella for many different ventures, according to Bill.

Bill said the business’s biggest money-maker was when Max would go down to the nearby airport in Eagle River, Alaska, and sweep snow off the wings of airplanes after a snow dump.

In 2011, he won the bodybuilding title Mr. Junior Alaska and got second place in Overall Men’s Physique.

He was also elected his freshman year of college to be a Union of Students UAA senator and interned in then-mayor Dan Sullivan’s office eight hours a week his sophomore year.

By the time he died, he had two real estate holdings in California and one in Montana, and “was the force behind an investment collaborative with his siblings and parents,” according to the obituary written by his family.

But Bullock’s mark on the world wasn’t limited to business and professional accomplishments and pursuits. He also built friendships everywhere he went, with a variety of people.

He founded Tau Kappa Epsilon, a Greek fraternity at UAA that, at the time, had chapters in every state but Alaska.

Bullock made friends in college. He made friends in the Navy. At an open mic night, at church. Name a venue, and he probably made at least one friend there.

According to testimonies from friends, Bullock was the type of guy who would go to a baseball game his friends wanted to go to and have a great time, despite having no interest in baseball, or ride a bike for over 80 miles to help a friend train for the Ironman Triathlon, and then go for a two or three hour run, all the while with a smile on his face.

He also loved his family, and is said to have talked about them often. When he was around 14-months-old, he lost his 11-year-old brother Jeremy when he was shot by another student at school. He helped his family build the Jeremy Bullock Memorial Soccer fields in Butte, which was a tribute to his brother, and supported the Jeremy Bullock Foundation throughout his life.

“Max packed more into 29 years than most could ever imagine,” an obituary written by his family said. He is survived by his parents, brothers, Josh and Sam, sister Kaitlyn, dog, Amelia, and many more family members.

Nephew of former Gov. Steve Bullock, Max’s military career started in Rhode Island, where he was commissioned as an Ensign after completing Officer Candidate School. He received the Lieutenant Thomas Eadie, USN Congressional Medal of Honor Award for receiving the highest average for academic and military training.

The Commander of Air Wing Five at NAS Whiting Field, Florida presented Max with a Certificate of Merit in recognition of his superior performance. He received his Wings of Gold and designation as a Naval Aviator in August 2019 before reporting to NAS Lemoore, California and the VFA-122 Flying Eagles for fleet replacement training in the F/A-18E-F Super Hornet.

During the 2021/2022 WESTPAC Deployment, he earned his Strike Fighter Weapons and Tactics Level II Combat Wingman Qualification. He accumulated over 600 hours in the T-6B, T-45C, F/A-18E-F, as well as over 125 carrier arrested landings.

Memorial contributions can be made in Bullock’s honor to the Wingman Foundation, a program supporting the Bullock family in creating a foundation to support dreamers and entrepreneurs like him “reach their ambitions,” according to the obituary written by his family.

The cause of the crash that killed Bullock is still under investigation.

There will be two celebrations of life for him, one on June 22 in California, and another at 2 p.m. on June 25 at the the Montana National Guard Army Aviation Support Facility, 3333 Skyway Drive in Helena.

Friends and family have been writing tributes to Bullock on


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