After career at IBM, Rochester man becomes WWII aviation expert - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

After career at IBM, Rochester man becomes WWII aviation expert

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Tom Brinkman has spent a lifetime loving, studying and creating World War II aircraft Tom Brinkman has spent a lifetime loving, studying and creating World War II aircraft

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Tom Brinkman has spent a lifetime loving, studying and creating World War II aircraft. He can tell you the special story behind each of his model planes. He has about a hundred of them.

Brinkman shows off one of his models, "This happens to be a Japanese float plane. It had a very big range, not a high performance fighter."

Brinkman shares a little more of his story, "A common question I get is did I fly these? I cross my fingers behind my back so to speak and say, yes. But in truth, it is only in my imagination, in my dreams. I wanted to be a pilot when I was a tike but this eye never cooperated and it wasn't 20/20 which I was told you had to have in those days. So I gave up on that dream but I did go into aeronautical engineering up at the University."

A road that lead him to Rochester.

Brinkman says, "In the early days, IBM here was a real major place for mechanical products for IBM. The old 80 column punch cards and the machines that handle that kind of thing."

But later in his career, he would teach hard drive technology to fly.

Brinkman shows us some old IBM posters, "That head actually physically flies on the disk. So now I've come back to my aerodynamics after all these years. I managed the department that designed these heads so they would fly right."

Brinkman's projects had secret code names, the Corsair and the Starfire, to protect them from competitors. And the fighters in the poster, he built those models at home.

Brinkman shares some thoughts while working on his models, "This really is a nice escape. You kind of get lost in putting them together and trimming them. As you add each part and finish painting some small part, you look at it and it's gratifying. You keep visualizing how this is all going to look when it is all done and it just kind of eggs you on. When its all done and you've turned off the airbrush for the last time, you've got the weathering and the grime...I could sit and look at these things and play with them for quite a while."

There is an aircraft that stands out from all the rest for Brinkman, the Vought F4U Corsair. He loves it so much, he wrote a book about it.

Brinkman says, "I wound up comparing a number of World War II fighters. For people who love these, it is a very intense, high temperature question about which is the best fighter."

But in his mind there is no question about the importance of preserving history and the stories of the brave men who flew these planes.

Brinkman says, "These guys were rushed through training. The losses that these guys saw through their friends going through pilot training. The loss numbers were as big as those lost in combat."

Stories Brinkman keeps alive through his models, writings, and lectures. When he retired from IBM, his family surprised him with a beautiful wooden propeller. It welcomes him to his work bench as each new project begins to take flight.

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