When World War II ended there was a general aviation boom. Thousands of people learned to fly during the war and there was a glut of military airplanes on the market that were defanged and made available to civilian pilots. Civilian manufacturers got into the act too. Many had been under contract to produce aircraft for Uncle Sam and switching over to a peace-time economy was a fairly simple process. But the airplane bubble soon burst and manufacturers went out of business, creating so-called “orphaned aircraft.”
Soon the owners of these orphans began to contact each other informally to share information, technical expertise, parts and flying tips. Using manual typewriters and mimeograph machines, they created newsletters to keep in touch and share information.
The “Type Club” was born.
ARE YOU OUT THERE?
As the years progressed, clubs grew and new technologies, first electric typewriters and Xerox machines, then computers and the Internet, made it easier to stay in touch with other club members. Type clubs still communicate through newsletters or magazines mailed on a quarterly or semi-monthly basis. With the creation of computer technology and cyberspace, the type club realm has exploded with multiple web pages and blogs for aircraft owners. Post a question on a type club bulletin board and within hours you will have a response. At larger fly-ins and air shows there may even be a type club tent. Aircraft owners are invited to come in and find the appropriate table to connect with other aircraft owners.
One of the most important features of type clubs is the help they give to aircraft owners who are restoring vintage aircraft. Affordable parts for vintage aircraft are sometimes hard to find, notes Alan Banard, Northwest regional vice president of the International Stinson Type Club.
“No one wants to buy an airplane that you can’t get parts for,” he says. “Type clubs are the reason people are willing to buy vintage airplanes and a large reason how they keep flying them. Type Clubs have more clout than a single aircraft owner does when it comes to getting manufacturers to make certain parts available for vintage aircraft.”
GETTING THE HELP YOU NEED
Type Clubs can help new owners track down just about everything from a qualified instructor to a mechanic who has experience with a particular make and model of aircraft.
The latter becomes more difficult, says Steve Krog of Hartford, Wis., who is the contact person for both the Luscombe Association and Piper Cub Club, because many of the instructors and mechanics who had vintage experience have gone west without passing on their knowledge. As a result, new owners of vintage machines have to hunt to find someone who can help them solve their problems.
“Often we get a scenario where someone calls us and tells us they have just taken delivery of an airplane like a Cub, but there is no one at their airport who can instruct in a tailwheel airplane,” he says. “Or they say that their airplane needs minor repairs and there is no one there who works on fabric aircraft. Fortunately for them, after 22 years in the type club business, we have the resources to help these people.”
That often means putting together repair kits for new owners or helping them find mechanics or instructors with experience to do the job.
“We can match people up by zip code,” Krog says. “For the mechanics we have a lengthy inventory of Piper blue prints and drawings that we can furnish. That is important because Piper no longer supports the Cub because of liability concerns. We can make these available to our members for a small fee.”
Most type clubs also have pages on their websites that provide technical support for their members. A well-placed email inquiring about parts, rigging or trouble-shooting techniques will generate a flurry of discussion and suggestions from other members.
“We make a concerted effort to provide technical support in terms of properly and safely maintaining airplanes,” he says. “We offer a lot of technical support for repairs, restorations and modifications by website as well as verbally and through a 20-page technical newsletter we mail out to our 3,500 members of the Piper Cub Club six times a year.”
HIGH TECH EQUALS HIGHER NUMBERS
Type clubs have evolved over the years, along with communications technology. When Stew Wilson joined the American Yankee Association type club in 1981 it had approximately 100 members. A typewriter and a copy machine were used to create the newsletter, which was dutifully folded, stamped and mailed by the club secretary.
“As the communication technology improved our club grew,” says Wilson, who is now the secretary and treasurer for the AYA. “It started out as the American Yankee Club, then when they built Travelairs and Tigers and Cheetahs, the club membership was expanded to include all Grumman related airplanes. By the 1980s personal computers had been invented and people started using those to create the newsletters. We now have about 1,650 members and we are divided into regions and have developed telephone trees.”
Volunteers run most clubs. Members support the clubs by paying annual dues. Dues, which can range from $10 a year on up, are often used to cover the cost of creating and mailing monthly newsletters or supporting a web page. Others are used to support educational or entertainment events, such as guest speakers at club meetings, booths at air shows and fly-ins, or technical seminars.
The invention of the Internet was both good and bad for type clubs, says Wilson. On the plus side it does provide for nearly instantaneous communication among members. The downside, he claims, is that many people won’t join a club if they can glean the information they need from the Internet.
“They just don’t want to pay, because they can get the resources they need off an Internet chat room for basically nothing, but there is more to club membership than the information and technical assistance,” he says. “There is the camaraderie. We are in essence a family. You make friendships that last for years.”
The club also offers technical programs at its fly ins and a maintenance and operations compendium for their members with articles going back to 1975.
“We sell it for around $40,” he says. “It is the Bible as far as the operation and maintenance for the aircraft.”
TYPE CLUBS: IF YOU CAN’T FIND IT, FOUND IT!
In June 1988 Larry Ball of New Haven, Ind., bought a 1956 Cessna 310 to get his multiengine pilot certificate. During training several small maintenance issues were discovered. Unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be anyone who had the experience to address them.
“I asked a lot of mechanics around my local field about maintaining my 310,” Ball recalls. “They stood there and scratched their heads and said, ‘I never worked on a 310, especially that old.'”
Ball contacted the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association looking for a Cessna type club, but most of the resources were for single-engine aircraft.
With the help of his wife and some excellent time management skills, he founded a club for Cessna twin drivers. In October 1988 he sent out some 3,000 letters to owners of Cessna 310s whose names and addresses he obtain from a company in Oklahoma City.
He told his wife that if he did not have 200 members by June he would abandon the idea. As of January 1989 there were 199 members in the club.
“We have enjoyed a continuous growth since that time,” he notes. “In 1990 we included all 300 and 400 Series Cessna twins, except the 336/337 Skymaster series. We now represent nearly 2,000 different Cessna piston twin owners around the world.”
One of the perks of membership is a monthly magazine that covers all Service Bulletins and Airworthiness Directives for Cessna twins. Owners are also invited to submit articles.
“We pride ourselves in being able to get pertinent information to all of our members that is not otherwise available by ordinary means,” said Ball.
The club also offers engine and aircraft systems training seminars several times a year.
Ball adds the invention of the Internet has made it a lot easier to operate a type club.
“It works the best to reach potential members,” he says. “Our website, TwinCessna.org, has been a great success. We get new members through this media, publish airworthiness directives, link to valuable websites, have a notice of future seminars, as well as answer hundreds of questions from owners around the globe.”
WANT TO KNOW MORE?
The best way to find a type club that’s just right for you is to enter your aircraft type into any Internet search engine. Not online? Visit the type club tents at Sun ‘n Fun and Oshkosh or ask around at your local airport.