Air Force kicks oldest GA club off base

May 23, 2012

More than a half century after the legendary Gen. Curtis LeMay created general aviation clubs within the U.S. Air Force, the club that led the way is packing up for departure from Wright-Patterson Air Force Base—located on the birthplace of aviation, Dayton, Ohio.

The roughly 300 club members—Air Force officers and enlisted personnel—will lose a few perks that came from operating out of an Air Force base, including access to a 10,000-foot runway, and most of the club’s current fleet. But the club’s leaders have opted not to fight, rather embracing a chance to continue as a purely GA group at nearby Greene County-Lewis A. Jackson Regional Airport.

Members—some of whom declined to speak for the record in recent weeks—have expressed in various venues varying degrees of outrage over a decision by Col. Amanda Gladney.

Col. Amanda Gladney Members of the aero club have expressed varying degrees of outrage over a decision by Col. Amanda Gladney.

Retired Col. Don J. Hunt, in a protest letter obtained by AOPA, questioned the financial and other assumptions made by base leadership.

“The proposed action is suspect and smacks of a ‘railroad job’ that doesn't pass the ‘smell test,’” Hunt wrote in March. “Base leadership and the real motive should be questioned.”

Emails sent by AOPA Online to base public affairs staff in recent weeks seeking comment and clarification of the decision drew no response.

In various documents prepared in the club’s defense, members noted that the club has generated long-term profits—a net total of $1 million to support other activities over the past decade, despite short-term losses associated with major repairs and upgrades, and seasonal variation in hours flown.

The club also boasted a strong safety record, with high standards of maintenance, safety, and proficiency.

The club’s fleet of five Piper Warriors, two Arrows, a Saratoga, an Archer, a Grumman Cougar, and a Beechcraft Baron stayed busy during warm-weather months, according to a schedule included in a Powerpoint presentation crafted in an attempt to sway the leadership. Club flights have accounted for 70 percent of base operations, members said. Most of those aircraft will likely be sold by the Air Force, with club members transitioning to a similar but smaller fleet of single-engine FBO aircraft and the Cougar, owned by Master Sgt. Ben Schleis, a member and volunteer who is no longer stationed at Wright-Patterson AFB but continues to lease the twin for club use.

“They didn’t kill our spirit,” said Schleis, a third-generation airman. “Our spirit is to keep flying.”