Tilford Harp was born on October 1, 1946, in Ponca City, Oklahoma. He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force on July 2, 1964, and completed basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas, in August 1964. After completing technical training at Chanute AFB, Illionis, Amn Harp was accepted for the Air Force Academy Prep School and attended from August 1965 until he entered the U.S. Air Force Academy on June 26, 1966. He was commissioned a 2d Lt in the U.S. Air Force on June 3, 1970, and then completed Undergraduate Pilot Training, earning his pilot wings at Vance AFB, Oklahoma, in July 1971. After completing C-141 Starlifter initial qualification training, Lt Harp served as a C-141 pilot with the 86th Military Airlift Squadron at Travis AFB, California, from November 1971 to September 1973. He then attended C-5 Galaxy initial qualification training from September to November 1973, followed by service as a C-5 pilot with the 22nd Military Airlift Squadron at Travis AFB from November 1973 to April 1978. Capt Harp received an Air Force Institute of Technology assignment to complete his Master's Degree from June 1978 to December 1979, and then served as an Operations Research Analyst and as Deputy Chief of the Operations Research Division with Headquarters Military Airlift Command at Scott AFB, Illinois, from December 1979 to August 1982. LtCol Harp next attended Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from August 1982 to August 1983, followed by service as a C-5 pilot, Flight Examiner, and Assistant Chief of Standardization with the 9th Military Airlift Squadron of the 436th Military Airlift Wing at Dover AFB, Delaware, from August 1983 to June 1985. His next assignment was as Operations Officer for the 56th Military Airlift Squadron at Altus AFB, Oklahoma, from June 1985 to May 1986, and then as Commander of the 443rd Technical Training Squadron of the 443rd Military Airlift Wing at Altus from May 1986 to July 1988. Col Harp attended the National War College from August 1988 to July 1989, and then served on the Faculty and later as an Associate Dean at the school from July 1989 to November 1991. His final assignment was as Deputy Commander of the 60th Operations Group at Travis AFB from November 1991 until his retirement from the Air Force on December 31, 1994.
His Air Force Cross Citation reads:
The President of the United States of America, authorized by Section 8742, Title 10, United States Code, awards the Air Force Cross to Captain Tilford W. Harp for extraordinary heroism and airmanship while engaged in a humanitarian mission as Co-Pilot of an Air Force C-5 aircraft at Saigon, Vietnam on 4 April 1975. On that date, the aircraft, carrying 330 passengers and crew, experienced a serious inflight emergency which could have resulted in the loss of life for all aboard. With no aircraft controls except one aileron and the engines, he provided exceptionally vital assistance to the Aircraft Commander in guiding the crippled aircraft to a crash landing in a rice paddy, thereby saving the lives of 178 of the people aboard. Through his extraordinary heroism and superb airmanship Captain Harp reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.