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February 20, 2019

Q&A: He has volunteered 1,200 hours at local airport

Photo/Don Del Rosso
Ken Peppard, who started as an air traffic controller and retired as an FAA program manager, helps with a variety of chores at the Warrenton-Fauquier Airport near Midland.
In the hierarchy of things, I think popcorn is like No. 3 . . . . No. 1 is: Are the bathrooms open? No. 2 is: Can you put fuel in my airplane?
Ken Peppard
• Age: 72

• Home: Near Dumfries

• Work: Retired program manager, Federal Aviation Administration, 1990-2011; special assistant, National Transportation Safety Board, 1986-90; air traffic controller/training instructor/accident incident analyst, FAA, 1969-86.

• Education: Bachelor’s degree, general studies, Shepherd (W.Va.) University, 1978; associate’s degree, aerospace, Miami Dade (Fla.) Junior College, 1968; Francis C. Hammond (Va.) High School, 1964.

• Family: Wife, Phillis; 2 children, and 4 grandchildren.

• Hobbies: Writing, photography, family genealogy.
By .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
Staff Journalist
The Warrenton-Fauquier Airport director can’t say enough good about his No. 1 volunteer.

“If Ken says he’s going to be there or do something, it happens,” Dave Darrah says.

Ken Peppard, who lives near Dumfries in southeastern Prince William County, has logged about 1,200 hours of volunteer service at the county-owned airport near Midland since August 2016.

The county board of supervisors last Thursday presented Mr. Peppard, 72, a proclamation with “its deepest gratitude and appreciation” for his contributions to the airport.

“I count on him for his vast experience to help me see things from a different perspective,” says Mr. Darrah, a retired colonel who served 33 years in the Marine Corps. “He’s more than just a volunteer.

“He’s a great sounding board.”

> Video at bottom of story

In 2011, Mr. Peppard retired from the Federal Aviation Administration as a program manager after 38 years with the agency.

Along the way, he wore plenty of hats at the FAA. Among other things, after joining the administration in 1969 as an air traffic controller, Mr. Peppard trained other controllers and served as an accident incident analyst and a reserve pilot.

The veteran pilot wrote the FAA’s first ultralight aircraft regulations.

Mr. Peppard also served as special assistant to a National Transportation Board member from 1986 to ’90.

“A straight-up guy,” Mr. Darrah, 67, says of his right-hand man. “He’s honest, got great integrity.

The airport director smiles. “He’d make a good Marine. You can count on Ken in a fight.”

He volunteers four to six days a month at the airport, Mr. Peppard says.

His duties include opening the airport, ensuring the 5,000-foot runway remains free of obstructions, working the front counter, refilling the two fuel trucks, fueling planes and generally pitching in as necessary.

Mr. Peppard also makes free popcorn, which visitors self-serve from a machine in the lobby.

“In the hierarchy of things, I think popcorn is like No. 3.,” he says with a laugh. “No. 1 is: Are the bathrooms open? No. 2 is: Can you put fuel in my airplane?”

• You live near Dumfries in Prince William County. How did you get involved with Warrenton-Fauquier Airport?

Jim Davis (co-owner of their Cessna 172) and I moved down here in 1988 when the Woodbridge Airport closed. We were looking for another place to locate a plane.

This was a very warm, welcoming place.

• Why do you volunteer at the airport?

I’ve spent an entire career in public service. When I was growing up it was: “Who needs help? Go help them.”

Here, I find myself at the end of a professional career with some down time, some skills. I’m still physically able to do. Mr. Darrah asked me if I could help him out. So I said yes. I enjoy being able to help and giving back to the community.

• What do you like most about volunteering?

The opportunity to meet interesting people, to have a level of comradery with the tenants, county residents and transients.

• How did you get hooked on flying planes?

My father went to work for the Department of the Air Force in 1947. I would periodically go with him to Air Force bases. I would see the airplanes and the jets. I’d go to some air shows and one thing after another. And I was always intrigued by that.

For my 12th birthday, my parents and uncle gave me a helicopter ride. It was a choice between the Goodyear blimp and the helicopter and I went for the helicopter.

• When did you start your aviation career?

I was 15 years old, a sophomore in high school. I decided once I got my driver’s license — you could get a driver’s license at 15 in Virginia then — I’m going to the airport. I went up there to the (Washington-Virginia Airport) and said, “I want to learn something about these planes.”

After school, I drove over there and worked afternoons and on weekends. It’s where Bailey’s Crossroads is now. I washed the windows, pulled the training planes in and out of the hangars — whatever was needed to be done.

I got $1.50 an hour.

• How old were you when you made your first solo flight?


• Any fear then?

No. At 19 years old, it was more about just doing it.

• How many years have you been a pilot?

This is my 54th year.

• How many hours of hours have you logged as a pilot?

About 8,200.

• That sounds like a lot.

That’s probably about 2-1/2 times what you’d see in a general aviation pilot who hasn’t done this professionally.

• Any close calls?

Not really.

• What’s the longest trip you’ve made?

Manassas to Fairbanks and back — in a single-engine airplane. I spread that out over three weeks.

• How often do you take your plane up?

About once every 10 days, typically anywhere from three to five hours per month.

• What do you like most about flying?

The technical side — being able to do something with a level of precision and arrive at a place 400 miles away within a minute of when I intended, and along the way constantly updating, constant decision-making and being able to enjoy the view, the scenery, the flexibility to go places that I might not otherwise have gone.

• You seem to have an appetite for the derring-do. You have raced dragsters, motorcycles and you’ve done some ski racing. What’s that about?

I’m very comfortable with speed.

• People die racing dragsters and motorcycles.

People die in a bathtub.

Contact Don Del Rosso at or 540-270-0300. 

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