James Thorpe's five decades of flying excellence, including some 7,500 hours in the TBM, have been recognised with the FAA's Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award, which acknowledges aviators who have practised safe flight operations continuously for 50 or more years during the course of their aviation careers.
The award was presented during a ceremony held in Thorpe's hangar at Illinois' Morris Municipal airport in the presence of approximately 60 invitees and accompanied by his latest TBM, a TBM 940. Presenting the award was D'Wayne Collins, the FAA safety team programme manager at the agency's Chicago Flight Standards District Office. A special guest at the event was Charlotte, Thorpe's first instructor when he began as a student pilot, who is in her 90s today.
Thorpe says: "Of the nearly 10,000 hours that I've logged, approximately 7,500 were in the various TBMs that I have owned."
Thorpe began flying with lessons performed in a Cessna 150 and progressed with a series of owned aircraft: a Piper P180, a Piper Lance in which he received his instrument rating, two Beechcraft Bonanzas purchased during the 1980s and a Piper Malibu, which provided his introduction to higher-altitude flight.
“I then had a TBM 700 demonstration flight in 1991… and immediately I was hooked,” he continues. This led to his purchase of a TBM 700A (S/N 86). He performed the trans-Atlantic delivery flight with well-known ferry pilot Margrit Waltz.
Thorpe subsequently stepped up to a TBM 700C2, benefitting from this version's extra gross weight for trips with equipment and passengers for the boat business he owned at the time, Spring Brook Marina, followed by the acquisition of a TBM 850 incorporating the Garmin G1000 all-glass avionics suite.
Thorpe says the purchase of his latest version, the TBM 940, was motivated by his wife Jean who wanted 'the button' for Daher's HomeSafe emergency autoland system.
“I have loved all of the TBMs that I've owned,” he adds. “TBM customers have always been given excellent care and support, which continues with Daher today.”
In reviewing his clean flying record during the past 50 years, with no incidents, accidents or reports while logging a total of nearly 10,000 hours, Thorpe provided some straightforward advice: “You need to start even before the pre-flight by thinking ahead…then focus on flying the airplane.”