Timothy Cowper was always good at going fast.
His brother Thomas recounted stories of childhood horse races on the family property in Galway, then teenage motorcycle rides and, when both brothers joined the New York State Police, white-knuckle squad car chases.
“Tim always had a knack for making fast machines go where he wanted,” Thomas said.
Thomas addressed several hundred family members and friends Sunday afternoon. They all gathered in the unheated cavern of the Murphy’s Landing Strip aircraft hangar outside of Perth. A few dozen uniformed state police troopers stood at attention on the damp concrete floor.
Timothy Cowper’s memorial service was held one week to the day after that love of speed ended with his single-seat aerobatic biplane crashing in the woods west of Great Sacandaga Lake.
Cowper, 55, of Galway, was a 30-year veteran of the state police and a senior investigator working at police headquarters in Latham. He was also a father of three and a committed pilot. Based on the line of speakers and solemn crowd, the man was a champion on all fronts.
“My arrests often led to personnel complaints,” said state police Lt. Eric Laughton, a colleague of Cowper’s. “People didn’t seem to mind getting arrested by Tim. Sometimes they came into the station and smiled as he read them their rights. He had a way with people.”
Laughton worked with Cowper years ago in a Fulton County state police office — a place he described as tiny enough to shake hands from opposite sides of the room, and desperately cold. His first day on the job, Laughton told an already-seasoned Cowper all about his plans to conduct narcotics investigations in the area.
“Tim told me, ‘this is Mayfield. Lets get a bite to eat,’ ” Laughton recounted.
As for the flying, Thomas said his brother was a careful man. The cause of the crash is still under investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board, but witnesses reported what looked like some sort of mechanical failure before the biplane lost altitude and crashed feet from Tange Road in Edinburg.
“We might never know what exactly happened,” Thomas said, “but I know he wasn’t taking an uncalculated risk. He wasn’t hot-rodding.”
Thomas asked the family to stay close and live life to the fullest, then a group of bagpipers played. Somebody blew their nose.
Outside, Tim Devine stood in the drizzle looking at a small aircraft parked just down from the hangar.
“Tim built this with another guy,” he said. “Named it after his wife, Christy.”
Devine is president of the Adirondack chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association. Cowper flew with the group on the day he died. They had a cookout at Plateau Sky Ranch airport outside of Edinburg.
Ten weeks ago, Devine and Cowper flew the homemade craft to Oshkosh, Wis. Cowper’s work stood up well over the 866-mile trip, then back again.
It was the sort of long trip Devine said Cowper was always pushing for.
He loved flying, according to Devine, and came to terms with the risks.
Back in 2008, Cowper’s engine cut out mid-flight and he had to make an emergency landing. The plane struck a hill and overturned, but Cowper walked away.
“It’s a reality of flight,” Devine said. “You have to be prepared. Some pilots go their whole careers and it never happens. Then sometimes it happens.”