Both professor and pilot: Thomas Watson

Oct 11, 2023
Thomas Watson wears his pilot gear as he flies a plane.

Ever since he was a little boy, Thomas Watson, clinical director for the Doctor of Nurse Anesthesia Practice program, loved the idea of flying.

“My mom would always take me to airshows as a kid,” he said. “It was so cool to see the (U.S. Navy) Blue Angels or Air Force Thunderbirds.”

Despite his interest, he was often told he couldn’t do it. Watson was born with a cleft palate and when he told people he wanted to become a pilot, he was often persuaded not to.

“I believe the reason behind it was because of my enunciation. But once I started flying, I never felt or heard that I could not be a pilot,” said Watson. 

Thomas Watson with Greg Payne.
Watson (left) with flight instructor Greg Payne.

Watson worked with an 83-year-old anesthesiologist and pilot, Dr. Ernest Teegarden, who told him all about his flying adventures. Teegarden encouraged Watson to go after what he wanted and finally soar to new heights.

At 32 years old, Watson found instructor Greg Payne. Watson bought his first plane, a 2006 Flight Design CTsw, and learned to fly for the first time. He earned his first sport pilot license in three months and then he received his private pilot license. The next plane he bought was a 1958 Piper Comanche, which he sold before moving to Wichita in the summer of 2023.  

2006 Flight Design CTsw
2006 Flight Design CTsw

Watson used to fly nearly every weekend. He prefers traveling to exciting places rather than doing a touch-and-go when the plane lands briefly and then takes off again. 

“Living in Phoenix, I’ve flown all over the southwest. Flying into Sedona for lunch or Fullerton, California, for a few days at Disneyland is pretty awesome. Landing in Las Vegas and feeling like a VIP even though you’re in this small aircraft parking next to the big private jets feels pretty special as well,” Watson said.

Watson’s lifelong goal is to fly around the world. He even has a map with all the stops possible to accomplish this feat in a small plane.

Photo from one of Watson's many flights.
Photo from one of Watson’s many flights.

Watson said aviation and anesthesia go hand in hand.

“In both cases, you’d rather be bored because you’re prepared than running around because you’re unprepared,” said Watson.

It’s no coincidence that Watson moved to Wichita, the aviation capital of the world. His next plan is to rent a plane he can fly in Wichita.

Watson recommends that “everyone do a discovery flight.”

“Every flight school offers it and it’s not as complicated as it may seem, so check it out and see if it’s for you. It’s also not as expensive as you would think. There are scholarships through the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA), Civil Air Patrol, and other programs,” said Watson. 

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