James S. Kippen was born in Denver, Colorado on December 2, 1948. He started his aviation career as an air traffic controller career with the United States Army stationed at Fort Rucker, Alabama. After leaving the military, he became a civilian air traffic controller, working first at the New York En-route Facility at Ronkonkoma, New York before transferring to control tower at Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland. This gave him the opportunity to photograph many unique aircraft including the presidential transport Air Force One. Kippen was a member of PATCO, the union that represented air traffic controllers in labor issues with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and served as Vice President of PATCO Local 257, the Andrews Tower Chapter.

In August of 1981, PATCO, citing a long list of grievances related to salary, scheduling, and other labor problems, voted to strike. By statue, unions that represented Federal Government employees were forbidden from striking and so the PATCO members were ordered to return to work or face termination. When the strike did not break, the government fired the controllers, including Kippen, and barred them from being hired for any other civil service position (this ban was eventually limited to just positions as Air Traffic Controllers, and eventually lifted entirely). The PATCO strike had a major impact on the American aviation industry, as the FAA needed almost a decade to rebuild the controller capacity it lost. Kippen joined many other fired controllers in pursuing re-instatement through a multi-year process of appealing to the Merit Systems Protection Board (the agency of the government charged with oversight of civil service positions) and then appealing their decision to the Federal Appellate Courts. This effort was largely unsuccessful and Kippen turned to aviation photography full time.

Kippen continued to practice his aviation photography and became involved in numerous aviation events including serving on the pit crew of the aircraft Riff Raff at the Reno Air Races, as well as working as “Pitt Boss” for Warbirds at Nellis Air Force Bases' Aviation Nation air show. He has photographed many military aviation exercises including JFEX (Joint Forcible Entry Exercise), Red Flag, and Green Flag. In 2000, he moved to Henderson, Nevada, to be closer to Zion National Park in Utah. Jim Kippen passed away on November 23, 2011. He is survived by his wife Mary, his brother John, and sister Anne.

Recent Submissions

  • Guide to the James S. Kippen Aviation Photography Collection 

    Allen, Thomas (2015-10-30)
    James S. Kippen was an Air Traffic Controller at Andrews Air Force Base as well as an aviation photographer. In 1981, he was one of the air traffic controllers fired by the Federal Government for joining a strike led by ...