In this edition of “In the Cockpit,” meet Atlas Air 747 First Officer Tom Cross, whose love for flying began at the age of two. Tom launched his career in Ground Operations and just recently transitioned to the cockpit. He put his first landing in the logbook early in the morning of his 40th birthday.
How did you get involved in aviation and when did you decide to pursue it as a career?
I have always loved aviation. My first flight was when my family and I moved from Germany to the United States. I was only two years old and ever since then, I have had a fascination with airplanes.
My first job in aviation was as a luggage handler at an aircraft ground handling company. I was 19 and spent the next few years unloading baggage, de-icing airplanes, and guiding push backs at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport (GRR) in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
As I continued to build my career in Ground Operations, I began taking flying lessons for fun. While working as a Loadmaster, which put me inside the cockpit of the DC-10, MD-11 and 747 travelling the world, I realized I should focus on pursuing my passion and become a pilot.
Next steps included getting my instrument rating at California Airways in Hayward, California and attending ATP flight school for my multi-engine and commercial certificates and three flight instructor certificates. Once that was all done, I began teaching at The Flight School, Inc., so I could get my flying hours.
While I was finishing up my flight training, I also worked at World Airways – eventually becoming Chief Loadmaster and Head of Ground Ops – and pursued a degree in aviation at Utah Valley University.
In the Fall of 2020, I found Atlas; I applied for a job and started flying the 747 in April 2021. Although it was a new job, it felt like coming home. So many of my former colleagues in Ground Operations are also here. It was a very comfortable transition.
What’s your most memorable moment in aviation?
The first time I took off on IOE (initial operating experience) after finishing my simulator training. I was en route from Chicago to Cincinnati and about two minutes into the flight it hit me that I was flying the plane!
Most interesting cargo you’ve ever flown?
I have flown everything from toilet paper to satellites, to missiles, and ship propellors. At a previous airline, we flew elephants to a wildlife sanctuary, which I enjoyed.
What is your favorite origin point?
Grand Rapids is my favorite origin point, since it’s my home. I love flying but I value my time off too. I like to golf, hunt, play with my dogs and spend time at the lake. I also love going to University of Michigan football games.
What is your favorite destination?
I love Paris. When I was working for World Air, we had a partnership with Air France and I spent a lot of time in Paris. I fell in love with the city.
What is the best place to watch planes land?
If you want variety, go to JFK (John F. Kennedy Airport) where you can see all sorts of planes landing. Another great spot is at the end of the G Concourse at O’Hare. All the heavy and international planes land on Runway 28 Center, which is fun to watch.
What is your favorite place to watch a sunset – in the air or on the ground?
On the ground, somewhere up on Lake Michigan in Traverse City. It’s a spectacular view.
What’s your favorite part of being a pilot?
There are these fleeting moments when you are flying, and you look out the window and you see something amazing, like the Northern Lights, or Greenland without any clouds over it. The opportunity to see all these amazing landmarks below makes all the sacrifice and hard work worth it.