Trans States Airlines Vice President of Safety Craig Tompkins recently accomplished a pretty lofty goal that he’d set for himself in 2014 – to fly 70 different aircraft before his 70th birthday. Craig reached his milestone right on time, flying aircraft type #70, a Cessna 170 on floats, just before his 70th birthday in October.
Craig’s love of aviation started over 50 years ago, when he was still in high school and already a fixture at his local airport. “I had my private pilot’s license,” he remarks, “but my parents wouldn’t let me get my driver’s license until I graduated high school. So I could fly planes, but I had to bum a ride from somebody else to get to the airport.” After graduating from high school, Craig enlisted in the Army and became an air traffic controller, and later spent 15 years flying charters and air taxis, as well as flight instructing.
Craig’s commercial airline career began in 1977, when he was hired by Command Airways, one of the very first regional airlines. Command Airways is historically significant because it was one of the first three American Connection carriers and was the first airline in the United States to fly the ATR 42. Before bringing the ATR to market, Command sent a group of pilots, including Craig, to Toulouse, France, to train at the actual ATR factory, making Craig one of the first pilots in the U.S. to fly the aircraft.
Craig spent 11 years at Command, eventually becoming the Director of Flight Training and running its entire ATR operation. In 1988, Resort Air (now Trans States Airlines) purchased the ATR portion of Command’s operation, and Craig has been with Trans States family of airlines ever since, holding positions including Director of Flight Ops, Director of Safety, and Vice President of Safety.
In 2013, Craig was a recipient of the prestigious Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which recognizes pilots “who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years.” Prior to receiving the award, Craig had to figure out just how many different aircraft he had flown, and realized that he was 67 years old and had flown 67 different aircraft. It was then that his goal of flying 70 different aircraft in 70 years was born. “When I saw that, I just wanted to make the numbers match up – 70 in 70,” he explains.
Here are just a few of the planes that Craig has flown over the years:
To most people, flying 70 different aircraft types before your 70th birthday would be a pretty big deal, but Craig is nonchalant about it, remarking, “My stepbrother has probably flown over 100 aircraft types at this point.” Of all the planes he has flown, Craig’s favorites are the DC-3 and the Twin Otter. Craig says that he doesn’t have any immediate plans to top his recent feat of 70 in 70 but there are several seaplanes that he’d like to fly, so he’s not ruling it out. “My wife tells me that I should shoot for flying 80 planes by the time I’m 80, but maybe I’ll start with flying 75 aircraft by the time that I’m 75 years old.”
Anyone who knows Craig has no doubt that he’ll do both.