The Silicon Valley actor, comedian, and star of Chuck Lorre’s new CBS series B Positive, talks to us about getting his piloting license, sexy planes, adventure, and the occasional barf fest.
LEO: What drew you to aviation and how did you end up becoming a pilot?
THOMAS: I got into aviation at about 17 when I started messing around with flight simulators. I’ve always enjoyed learning about military history, and video games were a way of pretending I was a Spitfire Pilot.
It just kept being a part of my free time, and eventually, about five years ago, I finally had the time and the means to try it out for real. I’m certainly no Spitfire Pilot, but I can get from A to B.
What did getting your pilot license entail?
For the first two months, a lot of motion sickness. Some people are lucky enough not to struggle with it. But for me, it meant I could only go up in the air for about 15 minutes at a time. I remember the day I thought to myself, “if I don’t get over this I think I’ll just give up and stick to simulations”. That was the day my brain, for whatever reason, got better at not freaking out in the air. So I kept at it.
Overall it’s flying and learning. You fly to get your skills up, you learn what to do and what not to do. There are a ton of rules and regulations and theory and if you continue your training and get, say, your Instrument Rating like I did, there’s even more studying to do. It’s basically going back to school.
What qualities must one possess in order to be a great pilot?
A mind like a jet engine, a body somewhere between Iceman and Maverick in the volleyball scene, and the ability to punch a hair in two pieces without making actual contact with it.
Other than that, just patience, desire, ability. It’s a challenge, it’s expensive—you gotta want to do it. And you never stop training.
Can you tell us some of your favorite aspects of flying?
I like learning it, getting better at it. I like the parameters of flight—airspaces, rules, pilot, and aircraft capabilities. I like that I can just drive over to the airport after work and take off to somewhere outside of LA. Small day trips. Big week-long voyages.
I like being self-sufficient. If I have a comedy show somewhere, I don’t hoof it to LAX and go through TSA and get sat next to a stinker; I make a flight plan, do a pre-flight check, and I’m up and away. It may take a little longer but I did it myself. It’s adventure.
Least favorite aspects?
Cost and fuel. One day we will get electric or hydrogen or something. Until then we are burning fossil fuels which will always bug me. I found the most fuel-efficient aircraft in its class, but still…I’m waiting for the day when we transition. I invest in various startups, and one of them is an electric aviation company. Hopefully, they’re the guys that do it!
Can you tell us some of your favorite models of planes—ones you have flown, and ones you hope to fly?
There are a lot of sexy planes out there. I used to fly a Marchetti SF 260 which is an Italian military trainer aircraft. I had aspirations of learning aerobatics, but just doing the entry-level stuff would ruin my day. I sat in the backseat of an F-16 courtesy of the Thunderbirds as they whipped me around the sky doing all kinds of maneuvers, including a sustained 9G turn which felt like the entire world was pressing down on my chest.
I barfed…twice, baby.
Favorite airport to take off from or land to and why?
Toronto City Centre Airport is cool. It’s on a little island right downtown next to all the big buildings and everything. Sedona Airport is pretty as you land amongst all the Arizona red rocks and the strip is on top of a mesa. Nice little restaurant there too.
A big one for me is landing at the little strip in my hometown of Nelson, BC up in Canada; I had always spent afternoons gazing across the lake when little airplanes took off and landed. It’s in this valley with mountains and trees and a lake, and for me, it just meant that I had accomplished a long-time dream.
I can fly, and I even flew back home.
Can you share with us one of your usual or favorite routes and why?
When I was getting my Instrument Rating, I flew across the country with my instructor to the East Coast. We were flying at night, in IMC (Instrument Meteorological Conditions), dodging thunderstorms, which was fun but challenging.
In and around New York City airspace it gets really complicated and stressful, and the Air traffic controllers keep up a super-fast pace. But it’s the type of challenge I like. And landing in Nantucket was kind of neat—next to a bunch of fancy private jets in my little prop plane.
Dream route you have yet to take?
I’d like to go on some big adventure. Either down to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico or even crazier… like bit by bit make my way to Europe and back.
The most exciting moment you have had as a pilot?
The flight in an F16 takes the cake. It takes all the cake. It eats it. It gets full off of the cake and then, as I said, barfs… twice.
Any scary moments?
I was landing in Monument Valley and there was a massive wind shear blowing off a cliff face. I decided to abort the landing but the wind was pressing my aircraft down and not allowing me to climb.
I had full power and was ever-so adjusting the flaps to keep from stalling as I eeked along about a couple of hundred feet from the desert floor. Eventually, I got out from under the downdraft and, after taking a deep breath, I landed somewhere else.
A little shaky but I learned some lessons that day.
Please share your piloting attire, including any accessories.
This is where you come in, Ilaria! I wear shorts and a t-shirt because most of the time it’s hot as balls. Hook a dude up with the slick hipster flyboy look, why don’t you???
I’ve got the shades. But maybe a vintage aviator watch…not too big? A light spring flight jacket? You know me, any pants need to be tapered and cropped.
CHECK OUT THOMAS
As Drew on Chuck Lorre’s new CBS series B Positive
As himself in the Netflix Improv Comedy Special Middleditch & Schwartz
As the voice of Terry in Hulu’s new animated alien series Solar Opposites
As the voice of Garnoz in Phineas and Ferb The Movie: Candace Against the Universe
As Richard Hendricks on HBO’s Emmy-nominated Silicon Valley
As Flag Staff in Zombieland: Double Tap