Twenty-One Flyers celebrates sixtieth anniversary

February 26, 2013

flying clubThe Twenty-One Flyers, a flying club based at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, in Bridgeport, Conn., celebrated its sixtieth anniversary in January.

The club, created on Jan. 5, 1953, was formed by employees at Sikorsky Aircraft. According to the club’s history, charter member Bob Burgess remembered the club’s first aircraft--a 1940 Luscombe 8A hangared at the airport. The second aircraft in the fleet was a 1946 Piper J-3. The club currently flies a 1975 Cessna 172M.

The club’s founding fathers established the club as a not-for-profit 501 (c)(7) organization that urges members to act as a cooperative, where everyone takes active roles in the management of the club, along with maintaining and upgrading the club aircraft, said President Lee Warncke. The bylaws even contain a clause that if the club becomes insolvent, the remaining revenues or assets would go to AOPA’s Air Safety Institute, he said.

The club is designed to provide pilots a way to pursue flying at a reasonable cost, along with an exchanging of knowledge and information that results in safer, more proficient piloting. Warncke noted that each member pays an equity buy-in, fixed monthly operating costs, and flight time using a wet rate. The rates are posted on the club’s website.

The Twenty-One Flying Club is proud of the diversity of flight experiences of its 12 members. Warncke, an instrument-rated pilot and aerospace manufacturing engineer with Stevens Manufacturing Co., said he developed the bug for aviation as a teenager and was mentored by his father, an Army Air Corp pilot. Early on, he was an avid aerobatic pilot, mastering advanced aerobatics with his friend, corporate pilot Dave Sayles.

Other members include engineer Don Adams, who recently retired from Sikorsky after a five-decade career. He is the recipient of the UTC Grover Bell Award, and the first person to be awarded the Sikorsky Donald Ferris Lifetime Achievement Design Award. And as a pilot he received the coveted FAA Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award for 50 years of a safe and unblemished flying record. Member David Matuska is an instrument-rated private pilot and an aeronautical engineer at Sikorsky, where he serves as chief of flight testing for the new Sikorsky CH53K Super Stallion.

Past president Jim O’Keefe is a 20-plus year club member, a member of the Milford Police Department, and an instrument-rated pilot who likes to get away with his wife. Rich Krikorian, who is retired from the phone company and is a Vietnam veteran, is a more recently minted pilot and licensed aircraft mechanic who, as a member of EAA, is a crew member of its B-17 Aluminum Overcast and has logged many flight hours across the country in the WWII bomber.

As a club with such a long history, Warncke is in a unique position to give advice to those wanting to start a flying club. “If you’re looking to start a club, you should visit other clubs. See how they operate, and then keep it simple.”