Air Force Veteran James W. Tompkins is a Virginia native. Growing up in the city of Danville, he was a flight enthusiast. Tompkins’s older brother began teaching him how to fly when he was only 12 years old. Tompkins emerged as a natural pilot. Embarking on more and more solo flights, he got a summer job working at the airport. Tompkins obtained his pilot’s license when he was 17.
Tompkins’s passion for flying led him to the US Air Force Academy, where he graduated in 1972. He attended pilot training at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia. He then went to the Norton Air Force Base in California. From 1975 to 1983, Tompkins was a C-141A/B pilot, instructor pilot and flight examiner, serving in the 53rd Military Airlift Squadron.
On Oct. 31, 1977, Tompkins’s abilities were put to the test. While on a mission in Richmond, Australia, his aircrew experienced a severe emergency, as two engines began to fail just after takeoff. As a fire emerged on board, Tompkins’s quick-thinking helped fly the aircraft back to base. Tompkins’s crew received an Air Medal and Air Force Safety Award for their handling of the emergency.
Tompkins left active duty and continued to serve as a Reservist from 1983 to 1993. He first served with the 729th Military Airlift Squadron at Norton, then served at Charleston Air Force Base in South Carolina with the 315th Military Airlift Wing. Tompkins’s squadron was active from September 1990 to May 1991 for Operation Desert Storm and Operation Desert Shield.
After serving for over 20 years, Tompkins retired in 1993. He flew commercial aircraft in Atlanta, and he worked with Delta Airlines from 1980 until 2005. He flew approximately 17,000 flight hours between military and civilian aircraft.
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Writer: Gianfranco Hernandez