Tom Reilly was born 25 April 1942 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and raised in Pompton Lakes, New Jersey. In 1965 he was riding his motorcycle in Orlando, Florida and noticed a sign on an FBO, "Learn how to fly $234." He had $236 in his wallet, went in and said, "teach me how to fly." Sixteen days later, flying a 150 Cessna, he had his private ticket.
In 1971, Tom was working restoring old homes and on weekends was a skydiving instructor at the Kissimmee, Florida airport. While packing a parachute, a P51 Mustang pulled up to the hangar. Not knowing that anything like that even existed, he said, "can I have a ride." A one hour ride later, for fuel only, $32.10, his life was changed forever.
The next day he commented to a friend about the P51 ride and was told about four fixed gear T6's/Yales in Canada that were for sale. Tom immediately drove to Canada and purchased them, sold three and kept and restored the fourth, to learn how to fly a taildragger. That was the start of his Warbird career.
Slowly working his way up to larger warbirds, he took a job helping to get a P38 airworthy. During that job in Pennsylvania, he took a weekend day trip to visit his parents in New Jersey. By chance he stopped by Caldwell Wright airport and discovered an abandoned B25 Mitchell. Tom acquired it by paying off all the lien holders and over a year period had it ready for a ferry flight to its new owners in south Florida.
From there his knowledge of WWII B25's and heavy iron expanded. He purchased two more B25's to restore, and a third for an owner in Daytona Beach, which led to him getting his pilot's type rating in the B25.
Another big break came along when he was contracted to go to Moses Lake, WA to do a pre-buy on a B25 fire bomber and fly it back to Kissimmee. This led to a restoration contract on a B24 Liberator, B17 Flying Fortresses and most of an F4u Corsair.
In 1985 he moved his Warbird restoration facility to Kissimmee, Florida and opened an FBO. Being a tourist area, the opening of a Warbird Museum/Flying Tigers Warbird Restoration Museum as part of the restoration facility was a natural.
The business expanded to include an event venue, yearly warbird air show, restoration school, Waco and T6s rides. This attracted people worldwide and brought other business to the airport, thereby establishing the Kissimmee airport as a warbird tourist attraction, which it still is today.
There Tom brought up about 10 young men, taught them the warbird restoration business and signed them off for their FAA Airframe and Power Plant license. He also supported the EAA Young Eagles flying program.
As the years went by a total of nine B25's, two B17's, one B24, six T6 Texans and a multitude of other warbirds were brought back to flying condition. After 20 years in Kissimmee, the devastating hurricane Charlie and two more within a month came along and totally destroyed his facility and many display aircraft. This series of events prompted Tom to donate his museum artifacts to other museums and move what was left to Douglas, Georgia and restart his Warbird restoration business.
After settling in Douglas, Tom joined forces with Don Brooks to complete to flying condition his PT17 Stearman, P40 Flying Tiger and another B17 Flying Fortress. He purchased another B25 Mitchell to resell and collected another PSl Mustang to restore. Then came the project of a lifetime, an extremely rare restoration of the North American XP82 Twin Mustang escort fighter.
Over an 11-year, 209,000 hour man and woman restoration project, the XP82 first flew on 31 December 2018. Tom went on to win the coveted title of Grand Champion Warbird at the 2019 Lakeland Florida Sun and Fun Airshow plus a Golden Wrench, Phoenix and Grand Champion Award at 2019 Air-Venture in Oshkosh. Air-Classics Magazine called it the "Restoration of the Century."
With the XP82 complete, Tom has most recently taken on the jobs of restoring two more B17s and another B25 Mitchell bomber.
In Georgia, Tom has hired both experienced A&P employees and young men just out of high school to concentrate on teaching them the art of restoring WWII aircraft and help them work towards their FAA Certification and Airframe and Power plant license.
These Warbirds and his restoration facility have helped put Douglas, Georgia on the map for years to come.
Tom Aviation History:
Tom's passion for preserving our nation's aviation heritage, teaching a new generation the dying art of warbird restoration and acting as a "Goodwill Ambassador" for general aviation continues.