Local pilot shares stories from the sky
Story and Photos by Andi Risk
Just to the left of the Waco Regional Airport lies the Texas Aero building – the hands and feet of operation for many Waco airplanes. On this bright, sunny day, Tommy Miller stood outside enjoying the weather, a habit he has formed over many years.
At 71 years old, Miller proudly said, “I could be retired but I’m not, and I still enjoy coming to work.” With a soft smile, he continued, “It’s just like my job is my hobby – it’s fun.”
Today, Tommy Miller is the chief pilot and director of flight operations at Texas Aero, which is a general aviation facility on the Waco Regional Airport that has been in operation since 1973. Texas Aero has owned and operated corporate aircraft for over 46 years, and has managed a wide range of aircraft from a Piper Super Cub to Citations, Hawkers, Challengers and Falcons. Texas Aero was not Miller’s first encounter with flying, however.
“I grew up in it from the time I was 5 years old, and I’ve just been here since,” Miller said.
Miller’s father, who served in the Air Force as an aircraft mechanic, later brought his knowledge to the Waco Regional Airport. Miller watched his father repair and fly planes from an early age, and soon decided he would follow in his footsteps. Because of his father, Miller was able to learn the ropes early, turning him into the proud pilot he is today.
“Growing up in it, I was getting training all along,” Miller said. “You need a different typewriting for each plane, so it’s just about learning the systems which are electrical, hydraulics and engines.”
Born and raised in Waco, Miller loves the town and the community he has built.
“Waco was a great place to raise a family, and I think it still is – still a small town that’s not too small,” Miller said with a smile. “You’re right in-between two major cities, so if you want to do something wild, just go to Dallas or Austin.”
Being able to fly from place to place also makes the world feel a little smaller. For Miller, most destinations are just a short jet away.
“I’m fortunate for being here so long because my boss usually lets me use any of the airplanes if they are single pilot,” Miller said.
Every year Miller and his family fly up to South Dakota to visit his wife’s family. Miller laughed as he explained his wife’s early hesitations with his profession.
“She didn’t know if something would happen to me,” Miller said.
Now, however, his wife has taken solo flying lessons, making her both comfortable and thankful for the time they are able to enjoy in the sky together.
Miller and his wife have three kids together – all boys. One is a personal trainer, one is a welder and one owns a business and races jet-skis nationwide.
“None of them fly,” Miller said without a hint of remorse. “It was their choice, and they’re all successful.”
Miller has also built meaningful relationships at work. Patrick Ishimwe, an international student from Rwanda, said Miller has taken him under his wing as a son since they day they met. Ishimwe works at Texas Aero as the customer service responsibilities supervisor.
“When my parents come to visit, Tommy tells them, ‘When you’re here, that’s your son. When you’re not here, that’s my son.’”
Ishimwe and Miller have been working together for three years now.
“He is a good dad of mine,” Ishimwe said.
As Miller reminisced on some of his memorable moments in the sky, he stayed calm even in the midst of stressful situations.
“I’ve lost two engines on an airplane,” Miller said. “I mean, that’s what all the training is for – trying to compensate for that.”
Miller also had the privilege of flying two former U.S. senators, Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison. The senators’ taxing schedules sometimes meant Miller would be working 14 days at a time without a day off. However, this experienced pilot took the challenge in stride.
“It’s fun to me. It’s stressful, but it’s fun,” Miller said.
While Miller has a variety of high-profile passengers, he still has a heart for the people of Waco. In fact, he routinely flies Baylor’s athletic teams to and from away games. From basketball to football, many of Baylor’s sports teams have called on Miller for their traveling needs.
When Miller isn’t in the air, you can find him at your local bowling alley. Board member of over 40 years, Miller enjoys time with friends as part of the Texas State Bowling Association. He also served as president of the association for two years.
With a lifetime of flying to look back on, Miller continuously looks ahead to the next journey. He is beyond thankful for his time in the sky, and credits the people surrounding him with making each journey so memorable.
A Day in the Life of Tommy Miller
5 a.m. Wake up within the hour
8:30 a.m. Arrive at Texas Aero and drink a cup of coffee on the golf cart outside
3:30 p.m. Head home from the office on days when there are no flights
When on a flight, Miller’s schedule is unpredictable. Many times Miller will stay overnight for his job, and many times he has flown to another state and back all before noon.
Either way, Miller tries not to work more than a 14 hour day.