May 14, 2004
For the inaugural edition of Careers in Aviation I interviewed Tom a captain in the United States Air Force. Tom also happens to be a good friend of mine.
When did you know you wanted to learn to fly?
I grew up right down the road from the Galion Airport--a small municipal airfield. From age 4 on I think I went down to sit on the side of the runway and watch the planes take-off and land. I'm not sure if I can give you a good idea how many hours of my young life I sat down there and watched. Flying has always intrigued me--but I think I could trace it back to then.
Where did you learn to fly?
All my training is military except for a few hours at the Galion Airport. I started by learning and then soloing in a glider at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. I also soloed in a Cessna 172 there. Then it was to pilot training. I started in a Cessna T-37 twin engine jet in Enid, Oklahoma (Vance AFB) and then went to Corpus Christi, TX (Naval Air Station Corpus Christi) to fly the T-44 (Beechcraft 90 Queen-airs). That's where I got my wings, and the total time for T-37 and T-44's was just over a year. Then it was 5 more months learning C-130's at Little Rock AFB, AR before I went to my first operational flying assignment at Pope Air Force Base, NC.
What type of plane do you typically fly? What do you like, dislike about that plane?
Almost all my flight time is in the Lockheed C-130 Hercules, which I am an instructor in and have over 2200 hours. I love it because it is very versatile and forgiving, is capable of multiple missions, and has taken me in and out of some really cool places. The only downside to it is that sometimes I wish it was a little faster!
What is your most exciting flying experience?
I would have to say still the coolest thing I have done in the air is flying formation in the T-37 at pilot training. It still amazes me that in 6 months you go from barely being able to fly the plane at all to being proficient in flying it 3 feet from another plane right next to you and doing maneuvers from this position as well--very cool for sure. It the C-130, flying low level (300 feet AGL) mountain routes is tops.
I have a wonderful aerial photograph from your website, www.rock36photography.com on my desktop (shown to the right). Is aerial photography something you think you will pursue?
I always take a camera when I fly in Alaska as there is no telling what we will see--and I usually take one anytime I'm off-station as well. Its the times I don't have one that I am bitter about like flying over Yosemite Valley and not having my camera handy. However, I doubt that this will ever become my photographic specialty. Equipment to specialize in that is very expensive.
Tells about your aviation career. What are you doing now and what do you plan to be doing in the near and distant future?
Right now I am working more at a desk than the airplane, but that will change in September. I'm going to Little Rock AFB to teach initial pilots how to fly the C-130. lots of flying time comes with that and I'm sure I will become a much better pilot by teaching these totally inexperienced guys as well. Most Air Force pilots who stay in one airframe for 6 years or more end up eventually teaching brand new guys to that aircraft, so this is a common assignment for someone in my shoes.
Would you recommend this career path to others?
Definitely, I have been all over the world and had so many opportunities that other people never have. Sometimes like any career, it can get old, but it only takes a great flight on a beautiful day to remind you how fortunate you are.
If you had one full day to fly, where would you go, what would you do?
Weather of course would be perfect, and I would take off in a C-130 from Elmendorf, head to Valdez and back through the mountains, and then to Cape Lisburne on the Arctic Ocean for a dirt assault runway landing. On the way home I would drop into the mountains around Mt McKinley for a short low-level before heading back to Elmendorf! Afterwards my crew would head to a good restaurant, share some food and beer, and make fun of sissy sports like soccer!
Note: For my readers that last comment was a slam on a favorite sport of mine. The opinions of the interviewee do not necessarily represent those of the interviewer.