DAVIS, W.Va. (WV News) — The West Virginia Airport Managers Association recently announced the induction of two individuals into the West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame.
The 2023 West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame inductees include:
• Thomas E. Cochran
• Perry E. Dillon
An installment ceremony to celebrate the 2023 inductees was held Monday during a private event at Canaan Valley Resort during the annual West Virginia Aviation Conference with family, friends and colleagues in attendance.
The West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame recognizes pioneers and leaders within the industry who have made significant contributions to the development, advancement, or promotion of aviation and have close ties to the state.
Born in Beaver, West Virginia, on July 8, 1940, Cochran dedicated the latter part of his career to ensuring aviation’s success in southern West Virginia.
Originally a coal miner, Cochran pursued a second career in aviation, attending the Spartan School of Aeronautics in Tulsa, Oklahoma. It was there he earned his Federal Aviation Administration certifications in 1968 in aircraft maintenance, radio operations and aircraft accident insurance investigation.
After receiving his A & P license, Cochran was hired by Trans World Airlines as an aircraft mechanic based at Dulles International Airport where he worked for 3 years until a nationwide layoff forced him to look elsewhere for employment.
He found work with the Pittson Coal Company and remained until retiring on July 7, 1997. The following day, Cochran was hired as the director of Raleigh County Memorial Airport, located in Beaver. It was here his aviation career would flourish.
Aside from Cochran’s commitment to a safe airport operating environment, his foresight and understanding of how airports serve as economic engines is second to none. His role in promoting the airport as a self-sustaining entity ripe with economic opportunity for the entire region propelled the Raleigh County Memorial Airport forward.
Under Cochran’s guidance, the airport completed several projects to improve safety, including obstruction removal, major interior and exterior passenger terminal renovations and the oversight of the development of the corporate hangar area and industrial park which led the way for future economic growth.
His push for economic diversification led to a partnership with higher education, offering training to those seeking positions in aerospace technology. This alone is extraordinary as graduates now have the choice to stay in West Virginia for the entirety of their aviation careers, keeping the economy growing.
It is perhaps Cochran’s service to his community for which most recognize him. Always an advocate for West Virginia, Cochran served with numerous volunteer organizations, including Visit Southern WV and the New River Gorge Regional Development Authority.
Cochran’s successful career and outstanding character are truly inspiring. His impact on aviation perfectly lends itself to his induction into the WV Aviation Hall of Fame.
He and his wife, Barbara, currently reside in Kingsland, Georgia. They are the parents of Wendy Campbell and Susan Cochran and the grandparents of Isaiah, David and Amelia Campbell.
Born in Barton, West Virginia, on March 29, 1937, Perry E. Dillon not only pursued his own passion for flight but steadfastly assisted others in pursuing theirs, ensuring aviation thrived in West Virginia.
Dillon’s love for aviation took root early in life after seeing a P-51 Mustang up close. It was not until 1956 in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, that Dillon was able to record his first flight. It would not be the last time he would fly; in fact, it was only the beginning.
Having experienced the wonder of flight, Dillon continued flight training in Elkins as money allowed. He finally secured his Private Pilot license in April 1960. He continued down this path, supporting his growing family by day and pursuing his aviation dreams in the evenings.
It was June 1961 before he secured his Commercial Pilot’s license. He immediately began building time toward his ultimate goal of employment with an airline.
He became a Certified Flight Instructor in January 1962; however, Dillon experienced a temporary roadblock. There was no demand for flight instruction nor any aircraft to provide instruction. This spurred his decision to move to Mississippi to train for crop dusting.
Fate would step in while Dillon was in Mississippi in the form of a group of Elkins residents who were seeking an instructor for their soon-to-be-formed flying club. Dillon accepted their invitation to return to Elkins and in May 1962, the Club was operational with their first aircraft.
In the first year of operation, Dillon would assist 27 pilots through their first solo flight with a total of 100 students in training by January 1964.
In April 1964, Dillon finally achieved his dream of becoming an airline pilot after securing a position with Lake Central Airlines. His professional airline career would span more than three decades and culminate in upgrading to Captain with U.S. Air before retiring in 1994.
Dillon’s love for aviation endured after retirement. His selfless demeanor made him approachable to all and he readily shared his wealth of knowledge with fellow pilots at the Elkins-Randolph County Airport.
It was his unwavering support of aviation and nearly 50 years of training pilots in the Elkins Pilot Club that earned him recognition from the Aircraft Owners and Pilot Association.
He and his wife, Rita, were the parents of two sons, Nick and Rick, and three daughters, Betsy, Deb and Donna. Dillon died at his home in Beverly on June 16, 2021. His commitment to aviation was evident to all who knew him.
Nominations to the West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame may be made by any individual or organization familiar with the nominee’s achievements or actions.
The West Virginia Aviation Hall of Fame is located in the terminal building of the North Central West Virginia Airport in Clarksburg. Each inductee will be honored by having a descriptive plaque dedicated to them praising their contributions to West Virginia aviation.