Tom Laasko is not your typical International Sales Director. This gentleman served in the Navy for a total of 30 years, 5 years on active duty and 25 years in the Naval Reserves. He actually held flying assignments for 15 years. Tom has flown both the A-7B (single seat jet) and the P-3C (multi-turboprop) with crew of 12, logging over 1000 hours in each aircraft. While on active duty, Tom flew 170 combat missions and had a total of 300 carrier landings. In our recent interview, Tom shares a bit more about his experience in the Navy, the challenges he faced as a pilot and how this incredible experience has shaped who he is today.
How long have you been flying?
I flew from 1966-1971 on active duty in A7B Corsair II jet attack bombers. I flew combat off the USS Ranger and USS Midway aircraft carriers from 1969-1971 and ended up with 170 missions, 300 carrier landings and ~1,000 hours. When I got off of active duty, I joined the Naval Reserve, transitioned into P3C Orion turboprop patrol aircraft, and flew for an additional ten years. That involved flying one weekend per month and two weeks active duty in the summer. We had a crew of twelve and flew 10 hour missions tracking real-time Soviet submarines (boomers). I ended up with around 1,000 hours in the P3C flying out of Willow Grove, PA; Azores, Portugal; Rota, Spain; Key West, FL; and Rosy Roads, Puerto Rico. After a number of other interesting “ground-pounder” assignments, I retired Captain (06) after 30 years.
Did you always know you would pursue a career in aviation, or more specifically be involved in the Navy?
Actually, my goal was to be an airline pilot like my father and older brother, but I ended up pursuing a totally different civilian career. I am International Sales Director for a global polymeric additives company. In fact, I have over two million miles flying internationally, but sitting in the back! I have been practically “everywhere” around the world.
How did you get involved?
I entered the Navy with the full intention of eventually flying for the airlines. In fact, I had a class date with Delta, but it was cancelled during the OPEC oil embargo of 1976.
What were some of the best experiences you had during your career?
Flying a single seat jet attack was an experience of a lifetime. The A7B was quite advanced at the time. It cruised at altitude at 420 knots, but could also fly at low level (500 feet; 360 knots) for about three hours. I filed many VFR flight plans and flew the coast lines of California, Hawaii, the Philippine Islands, Japan, etc., as well as through the Sierra Mountains out of NAS Lemoore with only a map on my kneeboard…no GPS in those days. It was exhilarating.
What were some of the scariest moments?
Any carrier pilot will say that landing on the “boat” in marginal IFR conditions at night will get your undivided attention. The Navy training was excellent, but a lot could go wrong. The airfield was moving forward at 30 knots and the flight deck was usually pitching. I finished active duty with 300 carrier landings (100 of them at night). Also, we were flying two missions per day off Yankee Station during the Vietnam War and getting shot at all the time. That also can be pretty stressful.
What are some of the biggest challenges you faced in your career?
The one and a half years spent in Navy flight training earning my wings were quite intense. The instructors were always pushing me to the max. However, moving from the A7B single seat jet attack plane to the P3C multi-engine patrol plane was probably the most challenging. It was like going back to flight school in a totally different aircraft and mission. Lots of study and check flights. But I became a Patrol Plane Commander (PPC) and could sign out my own plane.
What were some of your most exciting missions/trips?
The whole Naval aviation experience was an awesome adventure. Great memories, sense of accomplishment and I am here to talk about it! I will also give a shout-out to my wife, who gave me a “thumbs-up” on my duel careers.
What would be some advice you might want to impart on someone who wishes to pursue a career in aviation or the Navy?
Desire and perseverance. Remember it is an unforgiving vocation…not much room for error. But an unbelievable experience that few will know.
What are the top 5 things you cant fly without?
Well, if you are flying commercially, always bring you credentials. But for me, it is don’t forget your passport! Also, I had a small stash of USD’s just in case someone does not take a credit card.
Finally, at my age, I need an aisle seat (when flying commercially). I also need to have an accurate, distinctive watch that I can actually read – and my Torgoen watch offers just that!
How has your experience shaped who you are today?
Well, I think that the military can be a very positive experience for anyone. For sure, our military flight programs are the best in the world. But the military also teaches initiative, responsibility, teamwork, discipline, patriotism, leadership, honor and a sense of purpose. These qualities have also served me well in my civilian career.