More than 10 years ago, JJ Quinn wanted to expand the number of aircraft at the small general aviation airport in Culpeper, Virginia. His idea was like the Fields of Dreams movie—if he built hangars, the airplanes would come.
Culpeper Regional Airport in 1998 had fewer than 15 airplanes parked in tiedown spaces, and no hangars to protect them from the weather. After receiving county approval, Quinn leased 12 acres on the airport property and, with the help of another pilot (a general contractor), nine buildings were erected in about 10 months for a total of 90 units.
Virginia officials forecast the project would attract 28 airplanes in the first year. Quinn, a retired United Airlines Boeing 747-400 captain, used his hometown connections—he was born and raised in Culpeper—to market the new hangars. Today the airport boasts 150 based aircraft and a two-year waiting list.
Growing up in the small town, an hour south of Washington, D.C., 16-year-old Quinn and his buddy, Bobby Sommers, rode their bikes to the airfield (at the time a grass strip) and took their first flight lesson. They were hooked, and the pair financed their first airplane—a Piper J–3 Cub—with the $500 they earned by selling junk to local scrapyards.
Sommers joined the Army, while Quinn went into the Navy flying Lockheed P–2V Neptunes. After the Navy, Quinn was hired by Capital Airlines as a DC–3 first officer at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Furloughed just six months later, he returned to the Navy’s Pensacola, Florida, air station and instructed in North American T–28s. United Airlines bought Capital and Quinn was rehired. His more than 30 years as a United pilot included flight time in the DC–6/7, Viscount, and Boeing 727, 737, 747, 757, and 767 models. He retired at age 60 in 1994, and has since owned six aircraft, flying them for flight schools, aerial photography, or pleasure.
Today, Quinn teaches new and recurrent students at Culpeper. Logging 300 hours of flying annually in his beloved Cessna P210, his jaunts include trips to airport restaurants or flights transporting his eight grandchildren, three children, and their spouses. He donates flights to the EAA Young Eagles program, provides transport to Angel Flight patients, has flown America’s soldiers to various destinations, and has transported numerous dogs from animal shelters to foster care volunteers or new owners. Quinn helped organize and run the Culpeper Aero Squadron, a group that promotes airport activities to the local community.
“I love GA because of the freedom to fly wherever and whenever I want,” he says, “I have learned so much from GA that I took for granted on the airline.”
Kelly Murphy, an aviation writer, is JJ Quinn’s daughter.