September 11, 2013
By Steve Schapiro, AOPA Club Connector Editor
One of the goals of the Club Spotlight is to share the experience of successful clubs, and few have the history, longevity, or success of the Reading Aero Club based at Reading Regional Airport (RDG) in Pennsylvania. It’s been in continuous operation since 1932—including during World War II when fuel was scarce.
A look at the walls of the clubhouse tells the story. “One whole wall is our history and it’s really quite interesting,” Club President Ted Hershberger said. “The club in World War II in order to get gas would fly patrol off the New Jersey coast. We were one of the first to fly airmail—there are pictures of that. It’s a really cool collection of photos.”
Those photos show the founding members and the club’s first airplane—a Travelair powered by an OX-5 engine. There are proclamations from the Pennsylvania Legislature and a statement in the Congressional Record honoring the club for its 50th Anniversary (back when Reagan was president). And newspaper clippings about Grant Blimline, who is just possibly the longest tenured flying club member that has ever flown.
Grant learned to fly in 1928, just a year after Lindbergh flew solo across the Atlantic. Five years later, in 1933, he joined the club and was a member for 75 years until his passing in 2008 at the age of 99. Although Grant stopped flying solo in his 80s, members would pick him up at his retirement home to take him up in one of the club Cherokees. They would even let him take the controls. In 1989, he was made a member emeritus and no longer had to pay dues.
Over the club’s first 50 years, Grant had the opportunity to fly 26 different aircraft including a Curtis Wright Junior, a variety of Aeroncas (from Chiefs to the low-wing L.C.), a Taylorcraft, a Fairchild PT-19 (used for submarine patrol during WWII), two Globe Swifts, a Stinson Voyager, a Cessna 140, 150, 172, and 182, and a whole bunch of Piper Cherokees. Over the years the club reached a point where it was operating only Cherokees, Ted said, but about 5 years ago it decided to add a 172 in the hopes of attracting Cessna pilots as well as those who prefer Piper.
Educating the Public from the Beginning
“In 1932 we were chartered to educate the public in aviation so we try to do that, do community service,” Ted said. It is a tradition the club carries on today and one of the reasons the club has endured.
Some of the nearly 50 members participate in public benefit flying like Angel Flight East, the Veterans Airlift Command, or animal rescue flights. “I think there are three guys active now [with Angel Flight],” Ted said. “ I haven’t done it in a while but I’ve taken people out of Philadelphia to western Pennsylvania or out of Boston back home to Pennsylvania.”
The club also has taught the Boy Scout Aviation Merit Badge, and will do classes for elementary or middle school kids from time to time. Each December, the local EAA chapter hosts “Christmas in the Air,” a Young Eagles rally with games and activities in Santa’s workshop for younger children while pilots, including from the Reading Aero Club, fly children ages 8 to 17. Santa and Mrs. Claus usually fly in for the event as well.
The education isn’t limited to outreach efforts for children. The club held a pinch hitter’s course in which 10 wives and a daughter took ground school over a few weeks and logged two hours of flight time. The benefit for the club was the aircraft were flying more, and for the members they now have family members who are more comfortable flying and able to help with the radio and other basic duties during the flight.
“I can tell you, the wives were nervous, but their countenance changed once they were in the plane,” Ted said. The course covered weather, aerodynamics, operations in the cockpit, and communications. “We took them out and did turns and banks and climbs, basic stuff. It was well received. We’ve been asked if we are going to do it again.”
Instructing is a key part of the club operations. There are three CFIIs in the club and they all teach primary students or members looking to get their IFR rating. “What really drives the revenue for our club is the student pilots,” Ted said.
To attract new members, the club uses its web site, mass mailings, and events. Last year it held an 80th Anniversary party. It was so successful, they’ll host another anniversary party on September 28. “It’s a fly-in, drive-in. We invite antique cars, motorcycles and trucks. They drive onto the field and we’ll give trophies,” Ted said. “This year we’ll have helicopter rides and hopefully balloon rides. The purpose of this is to drive members.” Last year four or five new members joined either at the event or shortly thereafter.
By focusing on its rich history and staying true to its founding premise of education and community service, the Reading Aero Club has found a formula for success that looks like it will carry it through for another 80 years.
Name: Reading Aero Club
Location: Reading Airport (KRDG), Reading, PA
Year formed: 1932
Aircraft: 1999 C-172 SP Skyhawk ($90)/hr) 1999 PA-28-181 Archer III ($90/hr)
Rates: Hobbs hours, wet
Joining fee: $750
Dues: $60 per month
Membership: About 50
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