The sky's the limit


Photos by Jo Hunter

Attorney is an accomplished pilot

By Sheila Pursglove
Legal News

Attorney Steve Tupper once covered the 65 miles from Battle Creek to Big Rapids in 11 minutes on an orientation and demonstration flight in a USAF Thunderbirds F-16D Fighting Falcon.

"It was like drinking from a fire hose," he says. "I thought I was prepared, but I wasn't. And, at nine Gs, I weigh more than some of the airplanes I've flown, complete with full fuel, pilots, and coffee.

"I'm pleased to say that I stayed conscious throughout and that my demo pilot, USAF Major (now Lt. Col.) Tony Mulhare signed my logbook for an hour of dual instruction."

Passionate about flying from boyhood, Tupper is a commercial pilot and holds either commercial or private privileges in gliders, single and multi-engine land airplanes, single-engine seaplanes, and the Douglas DC-3 (SIC).

He is also lead legal officer and judge advocate for the Michigan Wing of Civil Air Patrol (CAP), where he previously served as assistant to the position for four years.

It's a perfect role for Tupper, whose early interest in aviation was sparked by the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, and by his first chapter book in elementary school, "Sabre Jet Ace" a biography of Korean War jet ace Joseph McConnell, Jr., written by by Charles Coombs.

The 1998 Tom Hanks HBO miniseries, "From the Earth to the Moon," reawakened Tupper's interest. On Feb. 7, 2001, he played hooky from work to fly down to the Cape to see the Discovery launch of STS-98 to the International Space Station. "Two weeks later, I was taking my first flight lesson," he says.

An attorney with Dykema in Bloomfield Hills, Tupper joined the CAP in 2004, drawn to the opportunities to fly search and rescue, disaster relief, and other missions. "That kind of thing has always appealed to me," he says.

Currently holding the rank of Lt. Col., Tupper was appointed a legal officer with a grade of captain in 2005, and has been flying and serving in a legal capacity for CAP ever since, including as a deputy squadron commander and search-and-rescue/disaster-relief pilot.

In addition to the Thunderbirds F-16 experience, he has flown with the 9th Reconnaissance Squadron in the T-38A companion jet trainer and with the 559th Flying Training Squadron in the T-6A Texan II, as well as widely varied other aircraft as part of his coverage of aviation and aerospace in his podcast and blog "Airspeed."

"I've been very fortunate. I've talked the Air Force into letting me fly in several military training aircraft, and I've tried to experience a broad range of civilian aircraft, from gliders to seaplanes to a 1940s airliner," he says. "Every one is different and wonderful in its own way. And that's not just piffle to say that. It's really true."

He earned the National Commander's Commendation in 2009; the Distinguished Graduate - Mission Aircrew School, NESA in 2010; and the Wing Commander's Commendation in 2014.

But Tupper doesn't only have his head in the clouds at CAP. A civilian auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, with 34,000 adult members, the organization performs operational missions and aerospace education, operates a cadet program for 24,000 cadets ages 12 to 21, and operates 550 aircraft spanning more than 10 types.

"CAP has all of the issues that any large organization has, like personnel matters and real estate leases," explains Tupper, an alum of Wayne Law. "But it also has both its own system of regulations and a relationship with the Air Force and all that entails.

"It's a dizzyingly broad range of practice, but the CAP Judge Advocate Corps provides mutual support and we also lean on our non-lawyer experts like inspectors general, command staff, and others. It's a very gratifying way to serve community, state, and country."

His recent flying has been primarily in the TG-7A, an Air Force motorglider used at the USAF Academy until 2003, and he is one of only five people in the world to hold a FAST formation card in the glider category.

He flies as part of a three-ship formation for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historical Museum's airshow team, and gives introductory flights to children as a part of the Museum's education and outreach programs for kids from inner-city Detroit.

"I know what excited me when I was a kid and what made me want to study hard, train hard, set goals, and achieve them," he says. "Taking a kid up in an aircraft lets you show the kid possibilities that the kid might not know are available. If you want a kid to understand what's waiting for them if they stay in school and stay out of trouble, it's incumbent on you to show it to them."

His favorite "students" are around 12 years old and a little scared about the flight.

"More often than not, that kid ends up flying the aircraft for most of the 20-minute ride with only minimal input from me," says Tupper who for the past two years has been teaching his 13-year-old son Nicholas a CAP Cadet Senior Airman and pilot trainee to fly. "He'll be eligible to solo later this year. I plan to take my flight-instructor test shortly and I'll be able to be the one to sign him off when the time comes," the proud father says.

Tupper's wife Mary Buday, and daughter Ella, 10 who is more interested in figure skating than flight cheer Tupper and Nicholas on in CAP exploits.

Tupper enjoys doing competition aerobatics in a Pitts S-2B bi-plane.

"It gives me small and very fleeting moments of doing what my airshow heroes do," he says. "I'm not very good at it. I'm safe, but I'm not precise or beautiful.

"But there was a split second in the box at the Michigan Aerobatic Open in Jackson in 2011. I was upside down on a maneuver and I looked up at the ground. Time slowed. I knew exactly where I was in three dimensions and I was one with the aircraft. Short of committing a crime or hurting a friend or family member, I would do anything to experience that again."

The Battle Creek native, who earned his undergrad degree from Albion College and MBA from Western Michigan University is the regular announcer for the Open House at Pontiac Airport home to the Oakland Composite Squadron Civil Air Patrol and has announced or narrated performances in Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Kansas.

"Most people who come to an airshow don't really understand what they're seeing," he says. "The announcer uses music, words and enthusiasm to explain what's going on in a way that makes the performance accessible to a lay audience. It's a challenge and I really enjoy that."

A member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, Experimental Aircraft Association, and International Aerobatic Club, Tupper's passion is a boon in his work at Dykema, where he specializes in aviation law and aviation and aerospace transactions, among other things. He also serves as chair of the State Bar of Michigan Aviation Law Section.

The Bloomfield Hills resident negotiated the comprehensive outsourcing transaction involving all operations of the Part 125 carrier that operates Roundball One, the McDonnell-Douglas MD-83 that transports the Detroit Pistons, one of the first NBA teams to use its own jet to get to and from away-games. After the organization purchased a different jet, Tupper helped run the process of selecting an operator to fly the jet and negotiated the agreement with the operator the organization picked.

"The aircraft was at the Pontiac Open House recently and I couldn't resist having a fanboy moment by having my picture taken with the aircraft in the background," he says. "I'm very proud of that project."

Published: Mon, Jun 15, 2015