December 15, 2016 – When he turned 16 on December 1, Tom Tippin had the opportunity to do something many aviators only dream of: He soloed a Piper J-3 Cub, a Stearman, and an AT-6 all in the same day.
“It was exhilarating,” Tom said. “It was quite an undertaking and it took a lot of practice. It was very humbling for me to be able to solo airplanes so historical like that.”
Not only does each of these aircraft have its own special history, combined they make up three of the four trainers that young men flew in the Civilian Pilot Training Program during World War II.
“He’s following in the steps of every cadet in World War II,” said Tom’s father, Aaron Tippin, EAA 427112. “I think it’s really cool. I didn’t even get to solo a Cub.”
Tom took off in the Cub around 8:30 a.m. from Upper Cumberland Regional Airport (KSRB) in Sparta, Tennessee, made his three landings, and then hopped in the Stearman. After Tom made his third landing in the Stearman, Aaron said he had the T-6 prepped and his gear on, ready to get in and go around the patch with Tom a few times before his solo.
“He said, you know, I feel pretty good about this and I don’t think you need to get in, so I cut him loose,” Aaron said. “He did it all.”
But this day was not really about soloing three Warbirds, it was about carrying on a family tradition. Aaron’s father, a CFI, had him behind the controls of a DC-3 when he was just three years old, and taught him to fly in a Cherokee 140 owned by the family’s flight school.
Aaron made it his mission to keep that tradition going, even building a car seat attachment to put his sons in his Cub when they were little over a year old. Because of this, Tom has been immersed in aviation for his entire life.
“I’ve been flying since I could put my hands on the stick,” Tom said. “My dad, being a CFI, gave me a head start on that. … I was 12 years old the first time I made my first three-point landing in the Cub, and that was kind of the turning point for me when I knew I was going to follow through on this to my solo.”
Aaron said flying seems to come naturally to Tom, whether it was when he introduced Tom to an E6B or whether they were up in the air, Aaron watching how Tom would respond quickly to abnormal situations. Following his solo, Tom’s family threw him a party and cut his shirttails.
“I’m just proud as a peacock,” Aaron said.
Although being instructed by his father does have its challenges from time to time, Tom said he knows he is lucky to have the experience and appreciates the faith his father has put in him.
“We’re both very passionate so sometimes that makes it difficult, but definitely I got the best education I could have gotten in aviation by far,” Tom said. “He’s very knowledgeable and he always makes sure I’m never in over my head. He’s cautious, but very good. … My job is to get my CFI now so I can solo my own kid someday.”