Noted biplane racing champion Tom Aberle passed away from cancer on June 15, 2019. He was 75 years old.
Tom’s aviation career started early via his parents, Harry and Yvonne Aberle. Harry was a celestial navigator on trans-Atlantic airliners back in the round motor days; later he and Yvonne operated a flight school in Compton, California. They relocated the FBO to Fallbrook, California in 1968 where it remains in operation as Fallbrook Air Service.
Always interested in experimentals and sport aviation, Tom earned his A&P license by attending the Northrop School of Technology, then opening his own building and maintenance shop, Aberle Custom Aircraft, also in Compton and then in Fallbrook.
A skilled fabricator, Tom worked on a wide variety of experimental projects, often assisting owners to completion. One service he enjoyed providing was workshop space where a customer would rent a designated floor area in the ACA shop, thus gaining access to ACA’s tools and equipment, along with Tom’s tutoring. He was especially well versed in rag-and-tube construction and took part in the building of multiple Pitts, Starduster and Mong Sport aircraft, to name just three types. He also performed multiple first flights for customers.
It was Tom’s air racing successes that gained him the most visibility, however. After a few exploratory laps around the Reno pylons in 1966 via a Starduster borrowed from Harwood “Skip” Hellen, Tom returned in 1967 for his first competition. That effort earned second in a heat race, along with a low-flying penalty that cost Aberle half his winnings. A devotee of the low and tight school of air racing that still prevailed in Reno’s early days, it would not be his last low-flying infraction.
Tom’s air racing career spanned a most unusually long 48 years. By 2015 when Tom, unknowingly, medically retired from air racing he had won 11 Biplane National Championships, all in Mong Sport aircraft. Easily the most recognizable of these is the dominating, 284 mph Phantom, the super-modified racer Tom built with the assistance of Robby Grove, Paul Lipps, Paterson Composites, Paterson Racing and Ly-Con Aircraft Engines. Aberle co-owned Phantom with Andrew Buehler who so far has won three additional Biplane Championships in it. Buehler will fly Phantom this September at the Reno races.
Tom is survived by his wife Cheri, and two sons Jerry and Ty.