Rankin grew up on a farm in Amelia County, Virginia. He loved airplanes since he was no more than four years old, along with his older brother. At age ten, he would ride his bicycle to neighbor’s farm strip every Sunday afternoon, and usually got a ride with one of the pilots there. Rankin soloed when he was seventeen, with three hours and forty-five minutes of official instruction.
With an English degree from Guilford College in Greensboro and a Master’s Degree in Social Work with a concentration in human service management, Rankin was a county director of social services for twelve years and assistant director for five. He was President of the North Carolina Social Services Association and president of two Rotary clubs.
In 1994,Rankin started a business providing services to people with developmental, mental health, and physical disabilities. At one point, the business had over 800 employees and eight offices around North Carolina. He sold the business in2015.
Rankin owns a Cessna 182 and a Super Decathlon aerobatic airplane and has over 2,150 hours as pilot in command. He lives in Lenoir with his wife of fifty-one years and has a second home at Pilots Ridge Aero Plantation between Carolina Beach and Wilmington.