Top Gun to Top Bible

By Richard Shipman

“I feel the need, the need for speed!” Maverick and his fellow aviator, Goose, jubilantly exclaim after returning from a high-speed flight in their jet during the iconic movie about naval aviation—Top Gun. In the real world, Tripp Usry also flew supersonic jets, but his comments after a flight would more likely have been, “I feel the need, the need to help people.”

Admittedly, that phrase isn’t as catchy as the line from Top Gun, but it is more reflective of the values Tripp and JAARS share. Tripp is currently attending the 16-week Pre-Field Orientation (PFO) at JAARS prior to his overseas assignment with our partner, AIM Air (Africa Inland Mission).

Tripp came to JAARS with a different background than most trainees, whose flying experience is usually in the small, (relatively) slow propeller-driven aircraft used in mission aviation. Tripp was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps for 12 years, flying the supersonic F/A-18 from shore-based airfields and off aircraft carriers. But more important than an aviator’s flying background is his desire to serve the Lord. And Tripp has that.

How does someone go from being a military pilot to a mission aviator? “I had always intended to make the military a career,” said Tripp. “But there was a point in my flight training when I realized that my priorities were not aligned with God’s. He gave me a heart for people and a desire to serve. A fellow flight student introduced me to the concept of mission aviation, and suddenly, I saw how God had directed my path to use my fight training for his purpose.”

Tripp’s path from Marine fighter pilot to JAARS PFO has been demanding. After leaving active duty, Tripp realized that his limited experience in propeller-driven aircraft meant that he needed to get “up to speed” in this new corner of aviation. He accumulated small-plane flight time at several commercial flight schools and SMAT—School of Missionary Aviation Training. With this exposure to general aviation and his years of experience in single-piloted jets, Tripp became proficient rapidly and passed the demanding JAARS technical evaluation on his first attempt.

At JAARS, Pre-Field Orientation is the “master’s degree” in missionary aviation. This demanding 16-week program is the final step before a mission assignment—Africa in Tripp’s case. What has been Tripp’s impression of PFO and flight training at JAARS? “I’ve been very impressed with the instructors’ professionalism and their attention to detail,” says Tripp. “To be perfectly honest, some commercial operators where I gained flight time were a little sketchy, but not here. Just seeing how clean the engines are and what good condition the airframes are in tells a lot about the safety culture at JAARS.”

What has been the hardest part of transitioning from jet to props? “Using the rudders has been a challenge,” Tripp admits. “In the F/A-18, you rarely used the rudders except when you were in a dogfight at slow airspeeds.” How about similarities? “JAARS teaches landing techniques that are similar to carrier approaches,” says Tripp. “Maintain a landing attitude and control the glideslope with power, and work to land precisely in the target area.”

Not surprisingly, there are some cultural differences between Marine aviation and flying at JAARS. “Well, there are no Happy Hours at JAARS,” Tripp laughs. “But what has struck me about the instructors at JAARS is their positive attitude and the encouraging atmosphere. In much of the military flying I did, the debriefs would center around what you did wrong, while here at JAARS the emphasis is on what you did right and how you can do it even better.”

Upon completion of PFO, Tripp, his wife Allie, and their four children will prepare for their assignment with AIM Air in Arua, Uganda, where Tripp will be a C-206 pilot/mission worker. “At AIM Air you’re a missionary first and a pilot second,” says Tripp. “That’s fine with me; God has led me to serve in Africa and I will honor that direction however he dictates.”

Tripp’s road to Christian service was different from most mission aviators’ paths except for one common denominator: a desire to serve the Lord and a willingness to sacrifice personal comforts to fulfill that commitment. Semper Fi (always faithful) is the motto of the Marine Corps. It could also be the motto of those dedicated aviation workers doing the Lord’s work worldwide.

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