The Pilot's Pilot
Bud Barron loved to fly in the skies. He flew toward the heavens for more than fifty years. When he saw his first plane at a Macon fair when he was a child, Bud knew that someday he wanted to fly. The Dublin pilot flew his plane for nearly forty thousand hours over the fields of Central Georgia, across the rivers, plains and mountains of America, and over the oceans of the Earth. It was seventy years ago when Winton Hill Barron, "Bud" to his friends, began his journey toward becoming a military pilot. And, it was thirty four years ago, when the citizens of Laurens County, Georgia named their airport after the man they called, "The Pilot's Pilot."
Bud Barron was born in Johnson County, Georgia on December 21, 1906 to his parents William H. Barron and Eliza Moye Barron. The family moved to Sandersville and after World War I, back to Lovett in northwestern Laurens County. Barron's father operated a grocery store in Lovett and Dublin. In 1930, Bud Barron was listed in the census as a café owner.
Bud Barron began to fly airplanes in 1928, soon after he took his first plane ride. "It cost me $40.00 for me and my date to go up. It was worth every bit of it," he recalled. It was during the late 1920s and throughout the 1930s when many young men and boys in Laurens County were captivated by the thrill and allure of flying airplanes.
Interestingly, living next door to the Barrons in their Washington Street home was Clay F. Bell. Clay Bell began flying at the age of 16. During World War II, he served as a bombardier in the 483rd bombardment group.
Bud bought his first plane, a Curtis Junior, in South Georgia. Of that plane, Barron once said, "My first plane a three-cylinder engine mounted on top of the wing with the propeller above the body behind the wing." Barron described his aircraft as "a piece of junk" which he restored with chicken wire, orange crates, and bed sheets. He flew along the highways back to Dublin to keep from getting lost.
"It finally wound up in the top of a big tree with my partner in it," Barron said. "It cut off both of his heels," he added during an interview as he reflected on his life in the air.
Barron considered himself and other like him as daredevils. "You just fix up a piece of junk and fly it," Bud fondly remembered.
In fact, Barron taught himself how to fly, according to Reed Salley, a lifelong friend. To pay his bills, Barron barnstormed all over southern Georgia giving plane rides for a nominal and paltry fee. After eight years of flying, Barron obtained a pilot's license when it became mandatory in 1936.
It was on the last day of 1941, some three weeks after the beginning of World War II, when Bud Barron received a telegram acknowledging his acceptance into the Army Air Force Ferry Command at Nashville, Tennessee.
Barron quickly moved up the line as an officer. After completing a seven-week course in St. Joseph, Missouri, he rose to the rank of 1st Lieutenant. By the end of 1943, Barron was promoted to Captain. The Captain was lauded by a St. Joseph's newspaper when he brought down a cargo plane on a runway without lights and with only minor damage to the aircraft.
Bud Barron was what they used to call a "ferry pilot." It was his mission to transport bombers, cargo planes and fighter planes from the United States to points around the world. Within his first year, Barron flew across the South Atlantic Ocean 8 times, the North Atlantic Ocean 7 times and across the Pacific Ocean twice. When he wasn't flying new or repaired planes, Barron flew troops to their new assignments and back home.
Businessman Ed Herrin said of Barron, "He flew just about every kind of airplane used by the United States during World War II."
Barron continued to serve his country as a commander of the Air Force Reserve squadron at Robins Air Force base, retiring in 1959 as a Lieutenant Colonel.
When Barron returned home after the war, he obtained a lease for a portion of the old Naval airport. Barron, in 1948, established the Georgia Aviation School, the first crop-dusting aviation school in the State of Georgia. Barron saw his business as an integral part of the agricultural community. "I've dusted thousands and thousands of acres. We are as much a part of farming nowadays as tractors," he maintained.
Barron added hangars and other buildings and transformed the remnants of the old naval airport into a first-class facility, so much so that Ed Herrin said, "Dublin became a favorite stopping place for pilots flying from the east coast to Florida."
Any pilot has many stories. He spoke of the time when he crashed his plane while piloting revenue agents, who were looking for liquor stills in the North Georgia mountains or the days when he flew Georgia governor Lester Maddox across the state during campaign events.
Barron died on August 17, 1981. In his fifty years as a pilot, Barron flew in the skies for at least four full years. Of his love of flying, Barron was often quoted as saying, "Once it bites you, it's worse than any disease." Despite his retirement and his long battle with cancer, Barron vowed to keep flying. "You get up there, flying around those big cumulus clouds, going in one side and coming out the other and you're all alone, there's nothing else like it." Barron said in one of his last interviews.
Winton Hill "Bud" Barron was inducted into the Georgia Aviation Hall of Fame on April 29, 2000. His contributions to aviation in Dublin and to the war effort of the United States during World War II will last into the next century. The people of Laurens County honored Bud Barron upon his retirement with the naming of the Laurens County Airport, which officially opened as the "W.H. 'Bud' Barron Airport" on January 3, 1978, thirty-four years ago today.