By Jeff Poole
Hubert Compton vividly remembers his first airplane ride.
“It was January 1955. I took it right out at that airport,” he says nodding toward the Orange County Airport. Compton found out his shop teacher at Orange High School, had a plane at the airport. He lived in Alta Vista and would fly home on the weekends after teaching during the week. Eventually, Compton convinced him to give him a ride. “I’d always been interested in airplanes,” he remembered. “There was just a Quonset hut and a little shed out there at the time.”
There’s quite a bit more at the Orange County Airport these days—particularly since Compton recently donated much of his collection of aviation memorabilia and books to the facility.
In recognition of his contribution and his longstanding support of the airport, the county held a reception in his honor at the terminal Aug. 5.
Six months after that initial airplane trip, Compton—barely old enough to drive a car—piloted a plane by himself for the first time.
“I’d gone over to Gordonsville because they had an instructor—Richard Whitmore,” he recalls. “He was the Gordonsville Airport Manager, instructor, mechanic, everything. He also had a charter service. He had a J-3 Piper Cub and taught for $7 an hour—that included gas, the plane, the instructor, everything.”
Once he was done with high school, Compton headed off to Richmond Professional Institute to study business and was drafted into the Army in 1958. Fortunately, he says, a number of the bases where he was stationed had planes, so he was able to maintain his aviation enthusiasm in the service.
Once he was discharged, he continued his aviation education on the GI Bill, returned to Orange and purchased his first airplane.
“I’ve owned an airplane since the early 1960’s,” he says. “The model I have now is a 1985 model and I’ve had it since 1987.”
Even though he had a plane, there was no place to store it at the Orange County Airport.
“I was working for the National Bank of Orange, and the president—Pete Austin, was a retired Air Force Colonel and he was very instrumental in getting things done at the airport.”
In an effort to construct the first hangar, Compton and 49 others signed a promissory note to build the first airport hangar in 1969 at a cost of $300,000.
Compton later left the bank and started his own insurance agency, which he operated for 37 years before selling it in 2000.
And he always was flying. He says he and his wife, Lu, took only one actual vacation during the time he operated the insurance agency, but have taken many short trips and long weekends up and down the east coast and into the Midwest in his Mooney high-performance plane. “The plane just fits me and I fit it.”
The plane will travel up to 200 miles per hour and can carry four people.
“We’ve been down to Miami, Florida and up to Portland, Maine. To Oshkosh, Wisconsin and to Kerrville, Texas (where Mooney is based),” he says. “It’s four hours to Miami in the Mooney,” he notes proudly. “It’d take you all day in an airline.”
He’s flown in and out of large airports and small, and says the Athens, Georgia airport is always a favorite stop.
In 2012, Compton received the Federal Aviation Administration
Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award at the Military
Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach, given for “dedicated service, technical expertise, professionalism and outstanding contributions to further the cause of aviation safety.”
The award is presented to those who have, among other requirements, flown continuously for more than 50 years without accident, incident or violation.
Additionally, he is a charter member of Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association and served on the board of the Mooney Pilot Safety Foundation for many years, providing safety seminars for pilots. He also served as a member of the advisory board of the Mooney Aircraft Corporation. Locally, he is a charter member of the Orange County Airport Boosters Association which supports local airport activities and has served on the Orange County Airport Commission.
He erected the flag pole and the picnic shelter that stand behind the original terminal building at the Orange County Airport and has flown members of the Boy Scouts seeking their Eagle Scout aviation merit badges.
Orange County Airport Manager Buzz Jarrell says the recent recognition for the airport’s longest continuous tenant was well deserved.
“I call him our airport historian because of his longevity here,” Jarrell says. “He’s been a great resource for me and I think the county recognized him the way he deserved to be.”
Jarrell says Compton’s hangar is always pristine and describes Compton as “One of the smoothest pilots I’ve ever flown with. When you fly with him, you can see him and hear him moving, but you don’t feel it. He is one with the aircraft.”
Compton says he wanted to donate his models, maps, books and collection to the airport where others would have the opportunity to enjoy them.
“I still have more to take out there,” he says.
Compton likes the progress he’s seen at the Orange County Airport and notes, “I’m impressed with it. They do a good job. For the first time I can remember, we have a board of supervisors enthusiastic about the airport.”
He says he appreciated the recent reception and recognition, admittedly getting a little emotional.