Charter member gets special AOPA message for 90th birthday
A champagne toast and a special message from AOPA President Phil Boyer kicked off a landmark birthday for AOPA charter member Henry Sollman.
Sollman, who joined AOPA in its infancy in 1939, celebrated his nintieth birthday during a special gathering Oct. 4 with nearly 100 family members and friends at Southeast Wisconsin Aviation Museum at John H. Batten Airport in Racine, Wis.
“We had a great one, thanks to Phil Boyer and his presentation he made for us,” Sollman said of Boyer’s DVD address. “It was quite a surprise for me.”
After becoming a teacher, Sollman saved enough money to buy his first airplane, a Rearwin Sportster, in the late 1930s. Then he heard about a new organization that advocated for pilots.
“I felt there was a need for an organization to help other pilots,” Sollman said, explaining his reasoning for joining AOPA. He also got involved in the Civil Air Patrol.
Later, Sollman recalled wondering how Boyer would do when he took over the helm of AOPA from former President John Baker. “He’s been a real sparkplug,” he said of Boyer. “I thought he was a real fine find for AOPA.”
Sollman taught music, served in the military, and worked in the electronics industry, but he never strayed far from aviation, owning various aircraft and participating in flying clubs. Then he devoted his career to aviation. He was the chief flight instructor at airports in Danbury, Conn.; Lincoln Park, N.J.; and White Plains, N.Y. He also hosted aviation safety seminars, was flight instructor of the year for the northeast region, and served as a safety counselor for the FAA.
His passion was teaching instrument flying, particularly the 10-day rating courses. Later, he coauthored a book, Mastering Instrument Flying, with Sherwood Harris. Sollman would take a tape recorder with him on instrument training flights and record the lessons, then send them to Harris’s secretary to transcribe.
“There were some gems of wisdom in there,” Sollman said of the recordings, joking that about 90 percent of what he said was discarded. “I think I made quite a contribution to the aviation field after that.”
For his former flight school students, his impact was significant. During a visit to one of his old flight schools in Connecticut after 25 years, Sollman said that four of his former students greeted him.
“They got interested in aviation through me. These were [my] students who were now airline pilots,” Sollman said, later adding, “I was just thrilled that they would remember me.”
Sollman also passed the love of aviation on to his family, taking his late wife Margaret and their three sons, George, Richard, and John, flying. He let his oldest son, George, learn to fly in the family’s Aeronca 7AC once his son built a radio to go in the aircraft.
Even though Sollman stopped flying in the 1990s, he continues to spread the joy of flight. During his birthday party, he entertained his grandchildren by signing wooden airplanes for them.
“The biggest thrill was to see my dad sitting there with the great grandchildren signing the little wooden airplane centerpieces,” George said of the event.
But for Sollman, the safety of flight is as important as the joy.
“That was my main goal in life,” Sollman said, “to promote aviation safety.” And, he proudly pointed out, that’s something his association has done through the AOPA Air Safety Foundation. “That’s what AOPA has done over the years with its safety clinics.”
October 14, 2008