Seeing stars

OK, I’ll admit it. When I heard country music star Aaron Tippin was going to be in concert at Sun ‘n Fun, I was excited.

Not just because I’m a fan, but because I knew I’d get a chance to sit down and interview him.

That’s one of the perks of my job. I get to meet the most interesting people and ask them all sorts of questions. Let’s face it, that’s a pretty great way to make a living.

While I’ve listened to Tippin’s music, I had no idea what to expect when I finally got the chance to meet him. With all the hype about stars these days, I didn’t know if I was going to meet a high-maintenance type who insisted on everything “just so” — c’mon, we’ve all heard the stories about rock stars who tear up dressing rooms because there were green M&Ms in the candy dish or the right brand of beer wasn’t present.

So imagine my relief when I finally got the chance to meet Tippin and it turns out that he’s just like us. Sure he makes his living in a very cool way, but when it comes to every day life, he’s just as down to Earth as the next pilot.

Tippin was raised in Travelers Rest, South Carolina. His dad was a commercial pilot, the captain of a DC-3, who inspired dreams of flight in his little boy. Tippin got his ticket when he was 16 and was flying professionally by the age of 20. He had his heart set on a career with the airlines, but in the mid-1980s that wasn’t a viable career choice. So he set out to make a living at his next love: music.

“Music was a hobby,” he says. “I never dreamed it would turn into a full-time job, but I’m glad it did.”

But even as he became a country music star, Tippin never lost his love of flying. In fact, one of his latest videos, “Ready to Rock,” features Tippin at the controls of his 1941 Stearman.

Besides the Stearman, Tippin also owns a 2005 Super Decathlon and a 1946 Piper Cub. His favorite? “I always say if I had to give away all my airplanes, the last one to go would be the Cub,” he says. “It’s just the epitome of great flying.”

Most of Tippin’s flying is for fun. He flies out of his own airport, 2TN8, on his 300-acre farm outside Nashville. His usual flights are 30-minute rides around the patch. “It’s strictly fun flying,” he says. “I don’t fly in bad weather any more because I don’t do it enough to be good at it and that’s the best way in the world to get killed in an airplane.”

His ultimate flight? “The biggest thrill I get is giving somebody a ride in the Stearman that’s never been in an open cockpit before,” he says. “They just cannot believe what it’s like to sit up there and let that wind blow their hair. It’s an awesome feeling. They come back with such a big smile. You can always tell they had a good ride by the bugs in their teeth.”

Like every other pilot, Tippin wishes he could attend more air shows and fly-ins, but he’s usually working on the weekends. That’s why he enjoyed his week at Sun ‘n Fun so much. While busy promoting his concert and doing “official” Sun ‘n Fun duties, he also found time to walk around. “I like to see what’s been invented since last year,” he says.

He was most excited about the Garmin 496 he picked up from Gulf Coast Avionics, which he believes will make him “a lot safer aviator.”

Like every other pilot, he enjoyed seeing the wide spectrum of airplanes, from the newest Very Light Jets and Light Sport Aircraft to the ultralights and homebuilts. “The guys who build their own ships — now that’s cool,” he says, noting it’s on his list to build a plane one day, using his skills as an A&P mechanic and a welder.

Meanwhile, he works on his own planes — when he has time. “I get as much of a kick out of that as I do flying,” he says, adding his Uncle Billy is responsible for most of the maintenance of his three airplanes.

Tippin is the father of three: a daughter, Charla, 20, and two sons, Tom, 6, and Ted, 9 — known as the “two terrible Tippins.”

“My sons already fly,” Tippin says. “My 9 year old has already taken off. He can take off, level off, climb, turn — but he’s still working on his landings.”

Aren’t we all?

Janice Wood is editor of General Aviation News

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