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Local dad, pilot teaches kids to fly ... model airplanes that is.
Tim Thompson
Tim Thompson, a pilot with Spirit Airlines, bonds with his children, Tyler and Andrea, by flying model airplanes. - photo by Ben Hendren

This article appears in the June issue of  400 Life.

By Jennifer Colosimo

Before Tim Thompson could walk, he loved aviation. He spent his toddler years tagging along with his dad to the airport. By 7, he got his first model airplane. As a teenager, he took his first flying lesson at Peachtree Dekalb Airport and — with help from his grandfather — got his first license from Mathis Airport. By young adulthood, he was in the military working on airplanes.

His passion never waned. In 2008, he quit his day job to get back in the pilot’s seat and refocus his career to its early foundation.

“I called up the instructor at the flight school and asked him how quickly I could get my first student and start making income,” said Thompson. “What usually takes about six months, I did in about 90 days. Within that timeframe, I had all of my advanced ratings and was teaching other people to fly.”

He now flies commercial flights for Spirit Airlines, but that isn’t his biggest job. Now, Thompson is dad to Tyler, 5, and Andrea, 10. And you can bet, this father-daughter-son team spends a lot of their time at the airfield.

“I wouldn’t say I forced this hobby on my kids, but by them observing me, they struck up their own interest in it,” said Thompson. “I’d be tinkering in my garage, in my workshop and they started to pick it up, too, because that’s what we did when we were hanging out. The next thing you know, they were asking me to get them new models and parts. It’s so cool that they’re interested in something that I’m passionate about.”

They’re also the youngest modelers around. Andrea started flying when she was just 5 years old. Tyler was on the airfield the day after he was born. They build and fly model airplanes, mostly, but were excited to get their hands on a drone when they hit the market.

“I’ve been an RC (radio-controlled) modeler for about 35 years now,” said Thompson. “And drones and model airplanes go hand-in-hand.”

“There’s a certain romance to flying,” added Thompson. “My daughter took a flight with me on a real airplane and she didn’t realize that you could fly through a cloud. She sees that and wants to know more. It’s important for her to get into modeling because it plants that seed for her future.” 

Flying offers fathers and kids a way to play together, whether building and modeling airplanes or flying hobby drones. Both can instill a certain kind of passion, set of skills and knowledge that might lead to a career in the growing field of piloting real airplanes, helicopters or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), what we know as drones.

“The basics of modeling can take you all the way through getting your full-scale license,” said Thompson. “In fact, a lot of the things I had to learn to be a pilot, I already knew as a modeler — the way that a plane flies, the way that it balances — things like that.”

That’s a huge reason Thompson gets excited about harboring his own kids’ interest in this hobby. Drones are becoming more and more popular with the average consumer, but they’re also being used by corporations and even the military. The FAA already has legal limitations and restrictions to who can fly them and where, and as that airspace becomes more and more valuable, new careers can’t help but emerge (think: the future of delivery services, aiding in military ops and speeding up medical transfers). People with that aerospace engineering experience are going to be at the forefront of forging this new industry. And that starts with a passion for flying.

The benefits of the Thompson family hobby are numerous. Model aviation has allowed his family to spend hours and days of enjoyment flying together and traveling to events. It gets them outside. It’s intellectual and mentally challenging. It’s a way to interact with their elders, building character and respect for others through play. And because most of their fellow fliers are elders in their 60s and 70s, it’s a rare opportunity to interact with that older generation on a level playing field — something that doesn’t exist in many other hobbies.

“Above anything else, I want them to have the joy that I know comes with flying,” said Thompson. “I enjoy it so much and it keeps me grounded. Life’s so crazy sometimes, and I know that we can just go pick up an airplane and go to the flying field with nothing more than our model, a transmitter and some water bottles. We’ll be good for hours. It just takes me away. I want my kids to have that, too.”

We’d say they’re all clear for takeoff. 

Tim Thompson
Andrea Thompson
Andrea Thompson
Tyler Thompson
Tyler Thompson - photo by Ben Hendren