May 13, 2013
By Steve Schapiro
The Bowman Eagles was formed 10 years ago for one purpose—to have tailwheel aircraft available to fly. With a low joining fee, reasonable dues, and low hourly rates it has to be one of the best values in the country. Club President Don Jeffries tells the Club Connector about the enjoyment of getting back to basics.
Why was the club formed?
There really aren’t any clubs or any groups [with taildraggers], and there weren’t that many taildraggers on the field. There were 10 people initially in the club that put it together and they wanted to have something different. They just wanted a taildragger that people could fly and enjoy. They wanted to make it affordable, basic flying. We didn’t want anything for long cross-countries, of course the 170 is capable of that, but most people don’t use them for that. It’s been around about 10 years, and I’ve been around for eight of that.
What type of aircraft do you have?
We started out with a Citabria and a Champ 7EC. Two people purchased the two airplanes together that we started with. We had to overhaul the Champ once because a guy stood it on its nose. And then another pilot landed it and went over on its back. Pretty much did that in, so they found another Citabria.
The last three to five years or so we’ve had two Citabrias, and the members said let’s do something different. There were a lot of people that wanted something with four seats.
When we started looking, one of the former members who had moved away and had recently come back to the area was looking to sell his Cessna 170. We looked it over and it was beautiful. It’s a 170B and it was in good shape. The board talked about it and said we’ll try it for a year and see how it goes. We’ve had the 170 almost a year.
What insurance issues have you faced?
We didn’t have a whole lot of trouble with insurance initially. As far as I know, we’ve always had Avemco. We had a couple of issues early on, little issues like catching the prop. Then we got to where we weren’t turning in small things. I’m talking up to and including $4,000 or $5,000.
We eventually decided we had extra money and it would be ok to self-insure since we weren’t making claims against the comprehensive or the in-flight part, or the hull part, of the policy. Basically all we’re doing is, unless it’s a total loss in which case we have to go buy another one, we’ve actually got enough funds on hand we could buy another Citabria.
When did you decided to self-insure?
About six years ago. It was right after the incident with the Champ that we replaced and when the notes on the airplanes were paid off.
The last time one was damaged, the FAA guy kept saying it needed to be recovered, so we recovered it. At that time we had to do an engine overhaul. We had $8,000 in it—a prop, an overhaul, and redoing the fabric on the fuselage. Of course, we’re doing it ourselves. The airplane was done in four or five months. It really didn’t work out bad. That’s just the way we’re handling it now. It seems to be working.
Who covers the deductible?
Because of the self-insurance, we have made the member who is involved in a incident responsible for half of what the deductible was previously, which was $1,200. So if you go out and damage the airplane, you would be expected to pay $600 toward the repairs. That was something that everybody agreed to.
It is something to encourage people not to be out there when they shouldn’t be out there. It’s worked. In the last two to three years we haven’t had an issue, knock on wood.
How about the 170?
We decided when we bought the 170, since it’s a nicer airplane and there had been mentioned issues about 170s being a little bouncy, we have it under full coverage. We’ve got $100,000, a million, and a million for liability limits and then there is a $200 deductible in motion and not in motion.
The Citabria is $100,000, a million and a million on the bodily injury and property damage. $1,000 medical expenses for each occurrence on the Citabria.
Do you require members to have renters insurance?
No, because all the members are owners.
What are the fees and rates?
There is a $200 initiation fee and $60 a month dues. The 170 is $78 an hour. We’re charging $55 an hour for the Citabria wet. We charge on tach time, not a Hobbs meter. We’re not quite breaking even at $55 an hour, but the monthly dues cover maintenance, insurance, and it also helps us make up for any shortcomings we have in the price of the aircraft. It works out very nice for everybody I think. We’re just trying to make it easy to fly.
How do you keep the costs down?
There are several mechanics in the club that we can rely on if we need anything. I’m an A&P and just got an IA this week. One of the other instructors is an A&P and one of the guys works as a mechanic for UPS. We don’t have to pay a mechanic to do the work.
Do most of your members already have their tailwheel endorsements?
Most of the original ten had their tailwheel endorsement. After that it was people that wanted to get their tailwheel endorsement. We had a problem for a while that people would join, get their tailwheel endorsement and then they’d leave. We tried to make it clear to people that we want people to make a commitment to the club for at least a year. If you’re not interested in staying part of the club, then we’re not interested in them. We don’t want somebody to join just to get their endorsement.
How many members do you have?
We’ve grown to 40 members. We’ve had as many as 45 but decided it was easier to keep it right at 40. We don’t have a lot of turn over anymore. We’ve tried to make it where it’s a club, where everybody knows everybody. One of the things we require if you want to be a member is you have to show up to one of the meetings and visit with people so they get to see you and talk to you.
Does the club vote on the people that want to join?
We’ll ask the members if they have an issue with the person, but the board actually votes on them. We have an eight-member board. There’s a lot of aviation experience there. Not necessarily hours, but they’re people that have been around General Aviation a long time.
Are most of your members a little older?
Initially they were a lot older. I’m probably one of the oldest members of the club now at 59. Jim Nolan, he’s one of the original ten, he’s 84 and the only non-flying member. He pays half dues. There are a couple of people he goes and flies with, but he will not fly by himself.
The age group varies from about 23 to 84. We’ve got several younger people. There are about four or five under 30. And they’re just tickled to death to fly taildraggers.
Are most of your members local or do some come from a distance to fly taildraggers?
Most of them are local. We’ve got a couple of UPS pilots that are members. One lives in Virginia and one somewhere else, but they have to come here to fly so they’ll fly with us while they’re here. There was one member from Missouri.
We did have a couple guys from Switzerland. They were students or something, they’d spend six months over here and then go back home for a little while and pick their membership up when they came back. And another member worked in Alaska in the summer and she’d come here and fly all winter.
When someone joins the club that doesn’t have a tailwheel endorsement, what’s the requirement to get checked out? Whatever it takes to check out. They have to agree that if you’re not good enough to fly this thing in four hours, it’s going to be six or whatever it takes. After they check out, we insist that they limit themselves to days with under 10 knots of wind and that they don’t fly with anyone else for the first five to 10 hours. We want them to get comfortable with the airplane before you take someone flying.
We also require every 90 days you must fly with an instructor. Typically it’s only three landings, but we may pull a go around on them, just to make sure they’re not getting complacent.
Is the 90-day check ride something the insurance company requested?
No, it’s something the club chose to do. The insurance would actually allow us to do primary instruction, but we have chosen not to do primary instruction. That’s mostly because the flight instructors have others things to do—one’s a doctor, I’m a helicopter pilot, and the other guy has a Yak and goes to air shows all spring and summer. None of us have the time to do it.
What are the challenges operating a club with just taildraggers?
The biggest one is, we actually had to ask a member to go away. With taildraggers you get people who will push their limits more than they should. It takes a while if you’re flying a taildragger to get used to doing it. The people that learned to fly in tricycle gear airplanes, you know Cessna called the first tricycle gear a “land-o-matic.” If you get it close to the runway it’s going to land. Getting people to keep their feet awake and to look down the runway instead of right in front of them to land is a challenge.
It sounds like the club is a little family.
Yes. The whole purpose was to be a club. We want it to be fun and we want everyone to have the airplanes to enjoy. It’s easier for me to get in an airplane where I know the people that are flying them. When you go rent an airplane you don’t know what the last guy did that flew it.
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