Lt Col (Ret) Tim Decker flew U-2’s, T-38’s, and F-117’s for the US Air Force during the last 20 years, but now he’s switched gears and he totally aces the air shows in a beautiful red and white Pitts S-2B. It’s amazing what he can do with that Pitts! I’ve seen him perform at many air shows and in 2008 I got to interview him at the Travis Air Expo!
Tim in action at Travis
“When I was probably 7 or 8 years old and living near the Cleveland Hopkins airport, I used to watch the planes coming in and out. One day I asked my dad, “Who flies those things?” “Pilots do” he said. I asked, “Do they get paid to do that?” He said, “Yes, they make a good living.” I couldn’t believe you could make flying a career, support a family, and have fun flying airplanes. So I decided that was something I wanted to do. In high school I got serious about it. When my guidance counselor asked me what job I was interested in, I already knew; I said I wanted to be a pilot! And then I worked with my counselor on my plan for becoming a pilot. “There’s a number of different ways. You can go through the military, which is the way I chose, or you can learn as a civilian pilot and do it that way. During my last few years in the Air Force, I was both a military pilot and a civilian air show pilot.”
“I started my flying lessons in high school. A lot of my friends were focused buying their first cars when I was about 16 years old. I wanted to do that too, but I wanted to fly even more! So I took the money that I earned at my summer jobs and I used it all toward flying lessons. I got my private license in my second year of college. During those years I paid for my license while a lot of my classmates were buying cars. I just borrowed my mom and dad’s car, which they were very nice to let me use, to drive to the airport and take lessons.” “My parents were fine with me flying but I’ve got a story, I probably shouldn’t tell you, but I will anyway!” “One time when I was about 15 years old my parents went out of town and they left me and my brother alone for the weekend. My neighbor across the street that was a crop-duster and I knew he had an airplane and I always wanted to fly in it. I wasn’t sure if my parents would be OK with me flying with the crop-duster but since my folks were out of town, I went across the street and asked, “Hey, can you take me flying?” He said sure! So we went out to the little airport and flew all around and upside down. I always knew I wanted to be a pilot but that was the first time I got to take the controls. I knew for sure this was for me after that! My parents laugh about it now, but I knew I shouldn’t have done that.”
“I love flying all types of airplanes. If a plane does its job well, I really appreciate it. I’ve flown some great airplanes. I’ve flown the U-2, the F-117, the T-38, but for civilian aerobatic airplanes I really enjoy my Pitts Special. The T-38 rolls 720 degrees per second! It has virtually no wings, which allows it to roll quickly, and a decent amount of thrust combined with low drag allowing it to fly at supersonic speeds. U-2 pilots fly the T-38 as a companion trainer. The U-2 is the primary airplane and the T-38 is the secondary trainer that helps the pilots maintain proficiency. The T-38, a very fast airplane, requires a fast crosscheck. The U-2 is a slow, but is very difficult to fly and it requires a very fast crosscheck to fly well, so the T-38 time helps. The U-2 is also difficult to land because of its single main gear and tailwheel combined with a 104 foot wingspan. It’s especially tough in a crosswind!”
Is there one plane you’ve always wanted to fly but you haven’t been able to?
“Yeah! The F-22! The F-22 is King Kong right now. It is by far the best airplane in the world. For air superiority it’s really the next generation. It’s a fourth generation fighter with stealth to get in and out of bad guy territory. We’re very fortunate that the United States has the F-22 and the bad guys don’t!”
How do you get to the point where you can fly the U-2 and F-117’s?
“I’d recommend that you get good grades in school, and do a sport. You need that combination because a good pilot isn’t only book smart or only a good stick and rudder pilot with good eye-hand coordination. You have to be both smart and have good hands. In fact, video games are good if you can maintain good grades. Someone that has good eye-hand coordination plus has good grades is well suited to military flying. Maintaining your physical fitness is very important too, so being in a sport is good. After high school, you have to go to college and get a four year degree. After college, you get commissioned into the Air Force, the Navy or Marines apply for aviation and if accepted, go to pilot training. After pilot training you’re assigned the aircraft the military thinks you’re best suited to fly.”
“There was one flight I’ll always remember. I was flying the U-2 over Bosnia/Kosovo area in the late 90’s when that conflict was going on. We were operating out of southern France, and we would fly all the way to the Bosnia area, operate there, and then return to base. Those sorties were about 9 hours each. So here I am returning after a 9 hour sortie, coming in from the east towards France and I don’t have radar in the U-2 that can help me avoid weather. When I called in about an hour before landing my ground crew said there were a lot of thunderstorms in the local area. You don’t ever want to get in a thunderstorm in an airplane. So I asked the ground crew where the thunderstorms were and for advice on how to avoid them. They said go to the west side of the field and come in heading eastbound. So that’s what I did. Unfortunately, the thunderstorms moved and were embedded, which means you can’t see them going in. They just look like normal grey clouds with no vertical development. As I descended into the weather everything was fine for a few minutes; but next thing I knew, I’m in a thunderstorm in a U-2, a single-engine, single pilot airplane with very long wings! I could see the wings flexing violently up and down, thunder and lightning, my instruments were cutting in and out; it was very rough and worrisome! I was having trouble hearing and talking with my ground crew and I’m out over the Mediterranean at this time. I knew I wouldn’t hit anything until I got down to sea level because I knew for sure I was over the water. I didn’t have to worry about hills or towers or stuff like that. I knew the weather was at 1500 ft. with rain showers underneath. I thought if I could dive down to 1000ft, and get underneath this stuff, I would be able to see again, and should be able to pick my way around the rain showers and land. My plan worked out successfully! It was kind of unorthodox but I didn’t want to divert which would have required climbing back up through the thunderstorms and risking tearing the airplane apart. And I certainly couldn’t turn around and go back through them. I was kind of stuck in a corner but luckily it all worked out really well. But I’ll tell you, it was exciting. I got on the ground and there was no damage to the airplane and I was very happy to have survived.”
You fly the Pits in shows. How do you like it?
“The Pitts S-2B. Now that’s a FUN airplane! I have the last Pitts S-2B ever made. It’s a 1998 S-2B. After my airplane was made, Aviat then started making the S-2C. The S-2B is a great airplane. It does exactly what you want. Just think what you want it to do and it does it.”
Tim in his Pitts S2B
Tim retired after 20 years in the US Air Force and is now a full time air show pilot and Certified Flight Instructor. I’d like him to be my instructor!
Tim Decker is a really great guy and an amazing pilot. Every time I go to an air show that Tim Decker is in, I have a blast!
He has a great website full of pictures and check out his videos there!
Also here are some very cool videos of Tim from YouTube- listen to the passenger in the last video!
Interview By Evan Isenstein-Brand