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Michael Compton '71

Date of birth: January 6, 1949

Date of death: July 18, 1984

Age: 35

Lucky Bag

From the 1971 Lucky Bag:


Michael was lost when the helicopter he was a passenger in crashed shortly after takeoff on July 18, 1984. "A federal accident investigator said Thursday that low-level maneuvers in which the aircraft climbs suddenly over a hill to fire its weapons likely were being conducted," during a demonstration flight, according to the Arizona Republic report on the accident.


From The Washington Post on October 2, 1986:

A defense contractor has been accused of allowing a Marine Corps officer to take a fatal flight on a civilian model of a helicopter that had been painted to resemble a higher performance military craft.

Relatives of the dead Marine made the accusation in a lawsuit filed in Fairfax County Circuit Court against McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co., seeking $2.5 million in damages for the July 1984 death of 35-year-old Michael R. Compton.

Compton, a Marine Corps major from Stafford County, was killed along with a company test pilot when the helicopter, operating out of a facility in Arizona, crashed and burned.

The suit alleges that the aircraft, which was being used for "marketing survey purposes," was actually a civilian helicopter that had been altered to appear to be a military craft by the addition of a missile array and camouflage painting. The helicopter was made by Hughes Helicopter Inc., which has since been acquired by McDonnell Douglas.

"We're charging that Hughes Helicopters turned its back on a decade of technology in failing to equip the aircraft with a crashworthy fuel system," said William O. Snead III, the attorney for Compton's family.

A spokesman for the manufacturer could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to the suit, Hughes solicited Compton's participation in the flight in an attempt to induce the Marine Corps to buy the helicopters.

The lawsuit claimed that the demonstration flights were conducted in a manner simulating operations in a "demanding, hostile and hazardous flight regime . . . " and were "choreographed by Hughes for the sole purposes of persuading potential military customers of the superior airworthiness and performance of the aircraft . . . . "

Those flights exposed "the aircraft to rigors of flight not contemplated in the basic design of the civilian aircraft," the suit said.

The suit was filed on behalf of Compton's wife Joan, his six children and his parents.

In an undated news article via the US Naval Academy Alumni Association:

Judge approves $2.5 million settlement

FAIRFAX - A Fairfax Circuit Court judge has approved a $2.5 million out-of-court settlement for the northern Virginia family of a marine pilot who was killed on the test flight of a helicopter. The Washington Post reported Saturday the agreement was approved Friday. The family of Michael R. Compton of Stafford filed suit in Fairfax against McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co, a defense contractor. The suit said the helicopter was a civilian model painted to resemble a higher performance military helicopter. Under terms of the agreement signed by Judge Richard J. Jamborsky, Compton's widow and the couple's six children will share the award with his parents. Compton, representing the Marine Corps, and a McDonnell Douglas pilot were killed in the demonstration flight in Arizona in July 1984. William O.P. Snead III, the attorney for the Compton family, said the lawsuit alleged the men could have survived the crash if the manufacturer had equipped the helicopter with a fuel system that would not have burned. Snead said the division that built the aircraft had manufactured such a fuel system. Jack Rhoads, the Alexandria attorney for McDonnell Douglas, had no comment on the case.

He has a marker in Virginia.

Class of 1971

Michael is one of 14 members of the Class of 1971 on Virtual Memorial Hall.

The "category" links below lead to lists of related Honorees; use them to explore further the service and sacrifice of the alumni in Memorial Hall.