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KBRwyle Master Aviator Awardee Recounts Flying Adventures

​From sub hunter to stork taxi driver, Tom Clarke has seen it all from 25,000 feet

KBRwyle employee Tom Clarke first soared into the sky at age 11, and hasn't stopped flying since.

Clarke's fascination with flight began when his grandfather arranged for him to fly in a small, single engine airplane in 1951. Clarke climbed into the front seat, the pilot cranked the engine and they took off.

"As soon as we went roaring down the runway and into the air, I thought, 'This is amazing!' I was wide-eyed, looking around at everything," said Clarke. "That flight changed my overwhelming childhood interest in trains and ships to airplanes, trains and ships. I still like trains and ships, but aviation is my passion!"

KBRwyle employee Tom Clarke stands with wife Kae after receiving the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award this June. This prestigious award recognizes individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as “Master Pilots.”

Today, Clarke reviews naval flight manuals, drawing upon his years of aviation experience, including serving as a Navy pilot and, later, as a member of KBRwyle's flight test team, the world's largest independent flight test organization.

His storied career was recently recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration which presented him the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award this June during the Pax River Air Expo at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland.

The Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award is the most prestigious award the FAA gives to pilots certified under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) part 61. This award recognizes individuals who have exhibited professionalism, skill, and aviation expertise for at least 50 years while piloting aircraft as "Master Pilots."

"It was really humbling as a professional pilot to receive recognition from the FAA, as well as from my many friends here at Pax," said Clarke. "My whole career has been dedicated to serving the Navy, promoting aviation safety, and just plain flying safely!"

Captain of the Seas and Skies

Flying was the main thrust of Clarke's career, but he began his time with the Navy under the sea. Joining the Navy Reserves in college, Clarke became a quartermaster on diesel submarines. After graduating Officer Candidate School, he served as a gunnery officer on a minesweeper. He was also an Officer of the Deck and helped control the ship from the bridge.

But his childhood interest in airplanes never waned. After a successful tour at sea, he requested to become a pilot and reported for flight training at NAS Pensacola in 1966.

"I really enjoyed my time in the submarines and minesweeper, but once I got into my first trainer airplane, I thought, 'Okay, I've found my path,'" said Clarke.

Clarke flew for the Navy for the next 20 years. He spent most of his active duty time in the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) community, flying the P-3 Orion patrol aircraft during the Cold War.

"It was exciting to hunt for Russian submarines and play cat and mouse with them!" said Clarke.

While in the Navy, Clarke served in various capacities with squadrons deployed around the world. This included serving as an instructor pilot in the P-3, C-130, UC-12B, T-44A, and CV880 aircraft.

"I dedicated my flying career to enhancing aviation safety through example and instruction," said Clarke. "I enjoyed actually "flying" the airplane and doing a mission, but I liked instructing and passing on my experiences to other pilots too."

An FAA representative presents Tom Clarke with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award at the Pax River Air Expo at Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River in Maryland.

Special Delivery

Clarke, who flew across the Atlantic Ocean 168 times, had many adventures during his stint in the military. His most memorable flight held a special delivery.

In July 1978, Clarke piloted a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) flight carrying three expectant mothers. Taking off from Sigonella, Sicily, he flew two of the women and a nurse to Naples, where he unexpectedly picked up a third pregnant woman and a doctor. With all five passengers aboard, he took off for Frankfurt, Germany. While in route, he got a call from the back of the plane.

"Things are starting to happen," a voice crackled over the radio.

The doctor delivered a baby girl while they were airborne over Germany. Once they landed, Clarke received another message.

"It's not over yet. She's having another one!" The voice exclaimed.

To the crew's surprise, a twin boy was born.

"Everyone said I landed the plane so hard I made the second kid come out," laughed Clarke. "I said 'No! No! No! That was the smoothest landing of my career!'"

After the successful flight and delivery, the airframers painted a slightly modified Pelican with two babies and the title "Clarke's Stork Taxi" on the nose gear doors.

Clarke still remains in contact with the family.

Tom Clarke celebrates his last flight as a Navy pilot. Clarke flew for the Navy for 20 years. He spent most of his active duty time in the anti-submarine warfare community, flying the P-3 Orion patrol aircraft during the Cold War.

Current Waypoints

After retiring from the Navy in 1986, Clarke eventually joined KBRwyle's flight test team and flew C-130, P-3, E-6B, and other aircraft to support the Navy. Now, Clarke edits, updates and coordinates engineering reviews for naval flight manuals for the MQ-4C, P-3, C-130, E-6B and EP-3E aircraft.

"I work for a great company and with great people, and I'm having fun. What more can you ask?" said Clarke.

Clarke, who has almost 16,000 hours of flight time, still flies recreationally and doesn't plan to stop.

"The feeling of exhilaration when you accelerate down the runway and lift off into the sky is one that never gets old!" said Clarke, who recently celebrated his 78th birthday.

"I won't quit until I can't climb into the cockpit anymore!"

Photos:

Tom Clarke serves as a gunnery officer aboard the minesweeper USS Limpkin (MSC 195). After a successful tour at sea, Clarke requested to become a pilot and reported for flight training at NAS Pensacola in 1966.