By J. MICHAEL KRIVYANSKI, For General Aviation News
On any given Saturday a group of men meet in a small building at Rock Airport (9G1) in rural Pennsylvania northeast of Pittsburgh. They enjoy a meal prepared by one of the members, whose turn it is to cook that day. After a quick prayer, they dig in and enjoy the food. The conversations that follow seldom leave the subject of aviation. That fellowship and dedication to flying is what has helped the Deer Lakes Pilots Club survive for more than four decades.
Now in its 41st year, the club boasts 61 members from a variety of backgrounds, including Jay Apt, a former NASA space shuttle pilot; Jim Eaton who, at 93, is still an active pilot; Gary Wiant, who flew helicopters over Vietnam; and Frank Bria, an engineer with the Pittsburgh Institute of Aeronautics.
The club was founded in 1969 when Bria and fellow pilot Tony Remich didn’t want to leave the airport after a long day of flying. Someone told them about a trailer that was for sale on property next to the airport. They bought it and the club was started with seven charter members.
In the beginning the club was focused on promoting aviation safety, hosting FAA Safety Seminars. In time the seminars became so popular they had to relocate them from their clubhouse to a nearby Holiday Inn.
Meanwhile, the social events the club hosted over the years to promote aviation are talked about by pilots around the country. The Deer Lakes Pilots Club has hosted corn roasts and bonfires. Fly-in breakfasts attracted not only pilots, but skydivers, who would literally “drop in” for breakfast. Following the meals, impromptu flying and skydiving shows were held for the enjoyment not just of club members, but for everyone in the vicinity of the airport.
Of course the No. 1 thing club members love to do when they get together is fly their planes. Members have flown to Mexico, Canada, the Bahamas, Alaska, and even as far as 250 miles south of the Arctic Circle. Depending on the destination, they may stop at a small city or even camp in the wilderness.
“It’s an incredible group of guys who have experienced a lot of different aspects of aviation,” says Apt. “It’s a place where if you need help with your plane they’ll help you. There are members who fly planes that they’ve built themselves. There is a tremendous depth of knowledge about aviation within the club.”
The club, which also owns the Deer Lakes Seaplane Base on the Allegheny River, regularly hosts Young Eagles flights to promote aviation to youngsters, as well as other youth-oriented activities.
“We have a kid’s program where some of our members take a few of the kids from our local junior high school and let them experience flying,” said John Marino, the current club president. “We like to refer to them as the future aviators. We bring them up for the day to the clubhouse and treat them to lunch and fly them over their homes and then fly them over their schools. We’ve been doing that for about 10 years.”
The club also sponsors an essay contest on aviation. Top prize is a flying lesson. Club members proudly note that the first contest winner went on to attend the Air Force Academy.
Club members are excitedly looking to the future, with plans to grow.
“Hopefully we’ll soon have some plans to build a new clubhouse down near the new runway that’s put in here at Rock Airport,” Marino said. “I think that once that’s done we’ll have an increase in our membership. There’ll probably be a lot more interest once we get more hangars and a new clubhouse built. That’s our long-range plan.”
The club’s website, Rock-Port.com/DLPC.htm, is under construction.