Tuesday, March 4, 2014


 "Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." – Leonardo da Vinci

The above words prove to be true for one Wales resident, who at the age of 78, still regularly soaring high above the streets of Lewiston/Auburn in one of his three airplanes. Tom O’Connell tasted flight at a young age and cannot seem to satisfy his appetite for the thrill-seeking experience.

O’Connell was raised just fifteen minutes north of Bridgeport, CT – an area renowned for its revolutionary aircraft designs thanks to the innovative works of Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation. The company was synonymous with the Corsair carrier-capable fighter aircraft which was used greatly in WWII and the Korean War. Growing up O’Connell’s backyard was a constant air show as the military ran regular test flights.

"All the times when we grew up, there were planes in the air doing stunts," he said. "It was a cradle of aviation and Bridgeport was constantly buzzing with aircrafts being ferried over from Long Island before being sent off to Europe." O’Connell was a very influential six-year-old boy as the nation readied to join the war efforts. Excitement was in the air and he caught the fever of flight and soon became a product of his environment.

Of the historic 110 years of man-powered flight, O’Connell has flown all but 51 of them and plans to continue doing so as long as his mind and body let him.

"During my younger years I worked my way up the ranks and when I was 22, I got my commercial license and from there I got my instructors rating," he said. "I also started working for Sikorsky amongst a lot of other places." He did a lot of jobs in sales and in the office at the airport, which was great because "at noon I’d go right across the way to the weather bureau and study patterns and watch them make weather maps," he said. "This was big because in those days there were no computers." The very next year he was flying co-pilot for Great Lakes Carbon Corporation. This lead to his hire at Mohawk Airlines where he co-piloted a B.A.C. III – which was the first regional jet that sat 74 passengers.

In just under four years he had become captain which he carried out until his retirement on December 31, 1993. During his career he worked at LaGuardia and Logan airports before moving northbound to New Hampshire and then finally in 1979, landed in the place he now calls home – Elm Valey Farm in Wales, Maine. Since moving there, he has been chartered to fly such political figures as Governors Angus King and former Maine Senator Olympia Snow through smaller private airlines.

O’Connell currently works for Twitchell’s Airport and Seaplane Base and has done so since his moved to the area. You can find this family run airfield off Route 4 in Turner. The airport was established in 1947 and is currently owned and operated by Dale Twitchell, Kelvin and Kurt Youland
"It is a great outfit to work for," O’Connell said. "You can come up here with the whole family and have a lot of fun. We have some good people here and it really is one of the best places to come to learn to fly."

O’connell currently instructs approximately 10-15 students and since his commercial retirement he has really grown to love instructing new pilots. There is no hiding this man’s passion as his eyes fill with excitement when watching an up-and-coming pilot battle the wind during a landing on one of the airport’s runways.

O’Connell, still much like that starry eyed six-year-old boy watching the planes soar overhead, is always eager to get his feet where he believes they truly belong - back in the sky. For more information about the history of Twitchell’s or to learn about their flight offers visit www.twitchells3b5.com.

(For our full story featured in LA Magazine visit. http://www.la-mag.com/above-the-clouds/) ***Update the LA Magazine has been cancelled.

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