Written by Jay Smith
Former Navy fighter pilot
As seen in the February 2021 issue of Model Aviation. I Am The AMA


AMA - EAA Member Tom 'Huffer' Huff Video Playlist


Jay Smith: How did you get involved with model aviation?

Tom Huff: I’m convinced that I was born with the aviation genome. However, I thank my father and uncle, who introduced me to the mystique of aerospace and, specifically, the enjoyment of modeling. When I was a toddler, my dad was involved in a variety of aerospace programs for General Electric and those were reflected in photographs that hung on the shop wall and became sources of inspiration. I still have the black and white photos of a Navy F-4 and Saturn 5 rocket. Need I say more? From there, it was all about filling the house with wonderful smells of hobby adhesives and paints!

JS: How has model aviation impacted your life and/or career?

TH: Model aviation was literally the launch pad for a career and lifelong passion for aviation. Not only did it provide technical skills and a north star for an aviation career, but it also yielded abundant family friendships and personal acquaintances.

Although I was blessed to have a 28-year Navy career flying everything from fighters to blimps, model aviation was always the hobby. Teaching model aviation-based STEM skills to my kids, as well as youngsters in after-school programs, was, in my mind, a necessary calling, and supported the "Get the Bug" campaign led by former AMA Marketing Director Jeff Nance to recruit youth into our hobby.

JS: What disciplines of modeling do you currently participate in?

TH: Currently, I dabble in a variety of modeling endeavors, to include ducted-fan jets, helicopters, 3D and sport foamies, and even sailboats. My brother and I have been fierce Combat competitors and now we participate in Pylon Racing with his twin boys, who are exceptional RC pilots.

Formerly, I was heavily into Pattern and IMAC [International Miniature Aerobatic Club]. I purchased a multirotor drone and pursued Part 107 licensing to better understand the UAS segment and advocate for sensible rulemaking for airspace integration. My brother turned me on to multirotors and fixed-wing FPV, introducing a new and challenging skill.

JS: What other hobbies do you have?

TH: I’m careful to claim only one hobby—modeling—so as not to be accused of having too many. Therefore, my addiction to maintaining and flying our own general aviation airplane is considered a "passion," and my affinity to road cycling is my "sport."

See what I did there? I still enjoy building and continually improving the appearance and/or capability of models. I have several kits that I look forward to building in retirement, but for now, keeping up with the evolving technology and complexity keeps model aviation continually challenging and enjoyable.

JS: Who or what has influenced you the most?

TH: This a loaded question and I’m not sure I could qualify "most." However, the unconditional support of my aviation addiction extended by my parents was foundational. There are so many other mentors and role models, but I’d be remiss in not mentioning the late Ed Mitchell, my middle school shop teacher.

Ed was a master craftsman, and his models were simply eye-watering in appearance and performance. He continued to be a tutor and friend and comes to mind often while sailing scale 12-meter boats that were pulled from a fiberglass mold that he created. I’ll never forget the polyester resin fumes emanating throughout the school.

JS: What benefits does participating in model aviation bring to future full-scale pilots?

TH: In a recent AMA podcast, pilot extraordinaire and astronaut Captain "Hoot" Gibson, U.S. Navy (Ret.), answered this question perfectly. First, model aviation cultivates a passion for aviation and the magic of flight. Second, model aviation offers the opportunity to learn about the mechanics of flight.

tom huff

So many discoveries about aircraft flying qualities and performance awaits an inquisitive model builder and aviator. Gaining insight into aerodynamic principles translates nicely to full-scale aviation. In the words of da Vinci, "Once you have tasted flight you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward." Model aviation aptly prepares the neck for this.

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Glad to see you are still passionate about the AMA. Wish I knew when we worked together I would have loved some tutoring. Hope to run into and fly together one day. Gunner

Sounds a little like my experience. My dad built and flew model airplanes before he became a "hump flyer" in WWII. He taught us kids when we arrived after the war how to build airplanes and make them fly. I had a career at McDonnell Douglas/Boeing as a design engineer for 41.5 years. And now my son flies tankers for the USAF. I still build and try to fly. That is the short story. Good article.

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