Flying High Over Paris
f it is only in “retirement,” that a man or woman can
earnestly devote the unlimited time and energy to a lifelong
passion that such a pursuit requires, erstwhile Montecito
, the Indiana-born former CEO of
Pinkerton’s is a working example of that well-worn theory. When he
retired from the world’s oldest private security company in 1999,
he turned his full-time focus to a life-long love: aviation, more
specifically, the re-creation of famous airplanes of the past.
Wathen began his
restoration hobby in the
late 1950s when he
bought an Ercoupe,
a pre-World War II low wing monoplane, fixed it up, and sold it. He began
building replicas in the late 1970s, beginning with a Piper PT1, and then a
VJ-21 motor glider.
In 2000, Tom rescued from bankruptcy a tiny airport in Riverside, California
called Flabob. The small airfield got its name in 1943 when Flavio Madariaga
and Bob Bogen purchased what had been Riverside Airport. In 2000, Flabob
became the home of the Thomas W. Wathen Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-
Flabob has become the home and hub of a flourishing collection of aircraft
aficionados, builders, and most importantly, restorers. It has also turned into
a center for middle-school and high-school Air Academy programs.
Wathen flies a Sportsman 2+2, a popular kit plane designed by Glasair, the
company he owns. Tom says it will outperform a Cessna 182: “It goes
faster and will hold much more, but you’ve got to build it yourself,”
he says during an interview at Pierre Lafond, a deli in the heart of
Montecito and near Tom’s home. He also owns a Cessna 172
“Spam can” – a lightweight all-metal plane.
“Our Sportsman is a steel tube
fuselage with a
by Thedim Fiste