Tom Davis is a force of nature.
If you are fortunate enough to ever wander through the doors of the FBO at Crystal River Airport-Tom Davis Field (yes, the airport is named for the man who runs it), you’ll see a bright, clean, well appointed facility that’s festooned with model airplanes.
They are everywhere. Plastic models sit on countertops, they’re mounted to the walls, they hang from the ceiling on thin threads of fishing line. They number in the dozens. You can’t miss them. You just can’t.
Interestingly enough, this impressive aeronautical art installation is not a random collection of models the staff has picked up at garage sales and hobby shops.
No, the assembled aircraft collection represents the types listed in Tom Davis’ logbooks. He’s flown ‘em all, from lowly trainers to powerful propeller driven beasts, to turbine powered go-fast machines. Some had guns and missiles and bombs, some had leather interiors and beverage service.
In a career that has lasted longer than most of us have been alive, Tom Davis flew pretty much everything in the Navy’s inventory during his active duty years, and a whole lot of civilian aircraft the rest of us would love to get some stick time in since then.
When I arrived to rekindle my connection with Tom the other day, I had to wait in the lobby for a while, chatting with a transient King Air pilot from Fort Pierce, a student working on his multi-engine commercial rating who came all the way from Asia to do his training, and Tom’s wife, Gudi, who is a far more impressive pilot than I will ever be.
Tom was out. Actually, he was in the air doing a stage check with a student on an absolutely beautiful autumn day on Florida’s nature coast.
Tom Davis is 89 years old and still actively instructs and runs the day-to-day operation of the Crystal River Airport and the FBO that serves it. Beat that.
He makes me feel like an underachiever. But he makes me laugh, too. So we’re all good.
Over the past 38 years, Tom, Gudi, and the airport staff have built their operation into a world-class destination.
It wasn’t quite so shiny and bright when that first lease was signed, but diligence, planning, and a talent for execution has brought real value to the community and the airport itself.
Yet, time does not give bonus points for accomplishment. As he has done throughout his career, Tom is looking down the road and preparing for the next phase of the operation. That means selling the whole shebang to someone who has the same fire, the same drive, and the same love of aviation as Tom has had.
There is an opportunity waiting for someone to pick it up and run with it at the Crystal River Airport, on Florida’s west coast. The question of the moment is, who will that be?
While sitting in Tom’s office, I tried to imagine what it originally looked like. His first desk was a door plopped on top of a pile of cinder blocks. Today, his sanctuary is considerably better appointed.
A giant photo of him beside old friend and fellow Navy vet, George Herbert Walker Bush hangs on one wall. Certificates and accolades adorn virtually every flat surface in the room.
I threw out what I thought was an off-hand comment that was obvious when talking to a man who is within spitting distance of his tenth decade on this planet. “So you’re getting ready for retirement, then?” I postulated.
“No, no, no,” Tom replied without the least hesitation, “I’m not going to retire. It’s just time to hand this off to someone else.”
His hands spread out to indicate the totality of the operation he’s built into such a success, bit by bit, over the past 38 years.
The flight school is a Part 141 operation that works with international and domestic students. They’ve operated a Part 135 charter business for many years, often with Gudi at the controls. The maintenance shop is abuzz with activity, and the fuel farm tanks up aircraft and air boats on a daily basis. The front counter is filled with knick-knacks, T-shirts, aviation adornments, and pilot tools. All for sale. I bought a couple T-shirts for my grandson, I’ll admit it. They were cute, and so is he.
This is what a diversified, successful general aviation business looks like. It’s a sight to behold, I’ll tell you. One that I wish was a lot more common.
Fortunately, someone will come along in the not too distant future to accept the baton from Tom and Gudi. They will transition from business owners to contract employees, to whatever they decide to be should they ever consider the march of time affects them as it does the rest of us.
But then again, maybe it doesn’t. This is a man who signed a 20-year lease extension with Citrus County to run the airport at 84 years of age. He’s optimistic to say the least. Perhaps that’s a component of the man that has led to his success.
Personally, I’m glad Tom is planning on sticking around, advising the new owners, helping the staff, and lending his considerable talent to be sure they’re as successful as he has been.
My reasons are entirely selfish, however. I just want to be able to fly in, tank up, and listen to him tell a few more stories. He’s got ‘em, that’s for sure.
I hope the new owners keep those models hanging up, too. I really like the story they tell.