Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2018 issue
A glider accident on April 14, 2018, resulted in the death of former U.S. Navy Top Gun instructor, Tom Irlbeck, 74, of Bayport, Minnesota and Cape Coral, Florida. The cause of the accident is not known.
Irlbeck is survived by his wife of 48 years, Katy, and their two sons, Jon (Nancy) of Sciota, Pa. and Kevin (Gina) of Stillwater, Minn.; five grandchildren; four siblings; and several nieces and nephews.
Tom Irlbeck was born May 31, 1943 in Hinckley, Minnesota, and grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota. He was the son of the late Henry and Gladys (Lieberg) Irlbeck.
Irlbeck started flying in high school and soloed at age 16. In 1964, after two years at the University of Minnesota, Irlbeck joined the U.S. Navy under the Naval Aviation Cadet program and served six years flying F-4 Phantoms. During Viet Nam, Irlbeck was stationed on the USS Enterprise and flew combat missions with Fighter Squadron VF-92. After returning to San Diego, he was invited to become an instructor at the newly formed Fighter Weapons School, later renamed “Top Gun.”
Irlbeck left the Navy in 1970 and started his career at North Central Airlines in 1972, flying the Convair 580. After 26 years with the airlines, Irlbeck retired in 1996 as an Airbus A320 Captain for Northwest Airlines. Irlbeck’s son, Jon, is a captain with United Airlines, flying the Boeing 737.
Upon retirement, Irlbeck spent the next two years building a Vans RV-8 and helped other RV owners flight test and to get checked out in their aircraft. He was also involved with the Experimental Aircraft Association Young Eagles Program in Florida.
In 2012, Irlbeck began flying gliders, and obtained both his commercial and instructor ratings, and was well regarded for advancing safety procedures.
In memory of Tom Irlbeck, donations may be sent to the EAA Chapter 66 Hangar Fund, c/o EAA Chapter 66, P. O. Box 60204, Fort Myers, FL 33906.