Former Aviation Insurance Adjuster Builds Own Backyard Runway

July 20, 2010

With 50 acres of property and a love for flying, David Tomlin turned 1,900 feet of his property into a landing strip that has jokingly been dubbed, “Harmontown’s International Airport.”

It took almost five years and lots of help from friends to turn what once was a dense forest into a flat landing area.

“Anyone who came along that wasn’t doing anything, I asked to help,” Tomlin said from his Harmontown home off Mississippi Highway 310.

Tomlin started on the landing strip about 10 years ago.

“I love my flying,” he said. “I wanted to have me a strip in my backyard and go flying whenever I wanted to.”

Tomlin worked for an aviation insurance adjuster that retrieved planes after they crashed. At the age of 45, he decided it was time to start learning how to fly himself.

After receiving his private pilot license, he bought a Cessna 150.

“It was just a two-place and it wasn’t big enough,” Tomlin said.

Tomlin, the retired fire chief for Harmontown, upgraded to a Cessna 172 which seats four people. He purchased his most recent plane, another Cessna 172, about six months ago. It’s no whippersnapper of a plane. It was built in 1964.

“But it has low hours,” he said. “It’s like buying a used car. It might be a few years old but has low miles on it.”

After having the planes, Tomlin decided it was time to have his own airstrip. His friend, Roger Cooper, a retired Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department deputy, helped Tomlin build his airstrip.

Cooper, a private pilot for at least 40 years, has two planes he keeps out on Tomlin’s strip — a 1940, bright yellow, J3 Piper Cub and a 1967 Cessna 150.

Cooper defends his Piper Cub and claims it’s faster than people realize.

“It’s just a 65 horsepower engine, but it gets off the ground faster than some with 140 hp engine,” he said. “They were used during World War II as fighter planes.”

Tomlin and his buddies worked on the landing strip on weekends and in the evenings. They were joined by several friends, including Mike Chapupis, who doesn’t fly but enjoyed helping his friends work on leveling the grass landing strip, and Bill Thomas.

“Bill really helped a lot,” Tomlin said.

Thomas died shortly after the landing strip was finished.

“He got to see us take off at least once before he died though,” Tomlin said nodding. “He was a good ol’ fella.”

Tomlin’s grandson, Matthew Nichols, remembers flying with his grandfather when he could barely see over the instrument panel.

“I can remember them strapping me into my car seat so that I could fly with him and when I was a little older, they put a pillow in my seat to boost me up,” Nichols said.

Now, Nichols is also a private pilot with about 300 hours of flying time. He said he doesn’t worry much about his grandfather while he’s flying his 42-year-old plane.

“He does his best to avoid sticky situations,” Nichols said. “I also think years of picking up crashed airplanes for insurance companies has helped build a good sense of respect for the airplane so he doesn’t take a lot of risks.”

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