With one instructor, one Piper J-3 Cub, 27 solos and more than 100 students in the first 12 months, the Elkins Pilots Club started with a bang 50 years ago and has continued ever since.
The club celebrated the milestone anniversary May 12 with a fly-in at the Elkins-Randolph County-Jennings Randolph Field in West Virginia. Two of the club's original members and the first flight instructor unveiled a stone monument commemorating the founding of the club.
Speaking at the event, club member Craig Hyre told the story of the founding in 1962 when gas cost 20 cents a gallon, airplanes rented for $6 an hour and flight instruction cost $4 an hour. The club's original Piper Cub aircraft is still on the field, and it was front and center at the event. Each of the 11 founding members invested $100 to launch the enterprise. Since then, hundreds of pilots have flown the club's airplanes, which today include a Cessna 172 and a Piper Archer II. The airplanes rent for $70 an hour; instruction is $35 an hour.
Elkins Pilots Club members Wendell Cramer, left, and K. G. Schmertzler, right, along with original club member CFI Perry Dillon are shown with the newly unveiled monument celebrating the organization’s 50th anniversary.
The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Tougher than a Tornado Sweepstakes aircraft made an appearance at the event, as did AOPA President Craig Fuller, arriving in his own Husky. Addressing the crowd, Fuller thanked Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., for his support. Manchin is an AOPA member and active pilot who frequents Elkins. One of the airplanes on display at the event was the state's Cessna Caravan, which Manchin regularly flew as governor. Manchin is a member of the Senate General Aviation Caucus. Fuller pointed out the importance of such large caucuses in the House and Senate and the effectiveness of the government bodies supporting GA causes.
Fuller also recognized the importance of flying clubs in supporting the growth of GA, providing lower-cost access to airplanes and flight training and encouraging social connections among pilots. AOPA is developing new means to support flying clubs and partnerships, he said.
Novelist Stephen Coonts, a West Virginia native who has a nearby farm with a grass runway, related his experience of flying into the airport many times and praised the welcoming pilot community at Elkins. The former naval aviator and best-selling techno-thriller author arrived at the event in his Breezy, and noted that many believe aviation is an expensive endeavor.
"But if you keep your wife working, it's not," he joked.
Rounding out the event, the Elkins Experimental Aircraft Association chapter provided Young Eagle flights to 72 local students, perhaps inspiring some potential club members who will be around to celebrate the club's centennial in 2062.