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The Thompson-Ames Historical Society
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11/8/07 - Local Veteran "A Hero Walking Among Us"

Written by: Carol Anderson

Another Veterans’ Day is upon us, which hopefully causes us to stop and think about the sacrifices that the men and women of our military have made for not only our country but for the rest of the world. Sometimes this special day gets lost in the swirl of enjoying a day off from school or work and the vast amount of sales brought forth by retailers. We all must remember that each veteran, whether they returned home from the service or not, has become a piece of the puzzle to our nation’s history. Most times, veterans continue to make significant contributions to our great nation even though they may no longer be an active part of the military.

One such veteran is former Navy pilot and local resident, Leslie “Les” Hibbert. Having served in the military during WWII, he has continued to make impressive and lasting contributions to our local airport, its history, and to aviation itself.

Diane Cooper, Airport Manager of Laconia Municipal Airport, made these comments when asked to share her thoughts about Hibbert.

“There are heroes walking among us, living ordinary lives, and Les is certainly one of them. Such strong emotions are evoked when I think of him: awe, pleasure, pride – especially pride,” she said. “He is a great, great guy and a long-time contributor to the airport. He understands the importance of the airport to the local community.”

Cooper, who is on a personal quest to gather a full history of Laconia Airport, added, “Les, because of the person he is, has spurred my interest in the history of our airport.”

Hibbert, who was born in 1918, says his love of aviation is an obsession. Considering that he was born just 15 years after the Wright Brothers’ first controlled, powered flight on December 17, 1903, he has witnessed almost the full development of aviation in this country.

His love of aviation began when he was a very young child at home in Wilmington, Delaware. His family lived directly under an airway that stretched from New York to Washington. This allowed the awe-struck child to constantly observe all types of aircraft flying at relatively low altitudes.

Recalling how his father took him to a “flying circus” as a child, he said, “There were pilots taking people for ‘hops’, but unfortunately my father didn’t let me have a ride that day.” He was content to build model airplanes until the chance for his first airplane ride arrived.

The Hibbert family moved to Laconia in 1933. The following summer was when the opportunity came for him to experience his first flight. The flight took place at the Weirs in a Waco bi-plane on floats. The pilot that day was Floyd Miller.

During the summer of 1940, along with best friend Steve Jewett, he learned to fly under the college phase of the Civil Pilot Training Program at Manchester Airport. Both men achieved their pilot’s licenses that September.

He would then drive to either Manchester or Concord Airport and rent airplanes, flying back up to Laconia to land at Laconia’s first airport, which at that time was located off of North Main Street. He is one of the few remaining pilots who remember using those sod runways.

With was a war brewing which would affect the entire world, he eventually became a Navy pilot, being awarded his Navy Wings on June 3, 1944. Remaining with the Navy as a flight instructor, beginning in Indiana, he taught scores of military pilots. He admits to being a perfectionist, and happily remembers the stories of his days in the service with wonderful clarity and detail. The Navy could be sure that if one of their pilots was trained by this instructor, they were sending a very qualified pilot off to the battles of war.

After his active duty ended in 1946, he returned to Laconia to work for Scott & Williams. Working full-time, there was still the strong urge to continue to contribute to aviation. By this time our current airport had been constructed, and in the late 1940’s he founded the Lakes Region Flying Club. That club is still in existence today.

Lee Avery, owner of Sky Bright, Inc., a fixed-base operator which moved to Laconia Airport in 1986, said of Hibbert, “Les is a really great guy and has been involved in aviation for a long, long time, especially here in Laconia. He started the Lakes Region Flying Club and has done so much for and with them. I’ve had the opportunity to fly numerous hours with him, and I can assure you that he’s a very good pilot.”

Not only has this former Navy pilot lived through the history of Laconia Airport, but he has been a part of each phase of it. He has taken hundreds of photographs and has kept notes on the history as it was being made. He attended, with camera in hand, the most recent ribbon-cutting at the airport, held on October 19th of this year. This veteran, who has spent a lifetime contributing to aviation on a local and national level, wants no credit for what he has done. He has helped so many aviators earn their wings and has fostered a respect for aviation in all of them. This is what truly makes Hibbert one of our “unsung heroes”.

If you have a story that you would like to share with Gilford’s Thompson-Ames Historical Society, please feel free to e-mail us at: www.thomames@worldpath.net. Be sure to check our website for information about the Society and for upcoming events at: www.gilfordhistoricalsociety.org.