Event spotlight: Starting from the ground up

Reviving the Nantucket Flying Club

December 2, 2012

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    Flying over Manhattan en route to Nantucket for the event.

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    Nantucket Flying Association President Chris McLaughlin introduces the documentary "Shady Lady" before a packed audience at the Dreamland Theater.

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    Middle school students were interested in getting more information about the aviation summer camp being sponsored this year by the Nantucket Flying Association.

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    The Empire State Building lit up in white at night from 6,500 feet.

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    Formation flight at twilight.

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    Nantucket Memorial Airport.

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    Base to Final at Nantucket Memorial Airport.

The Nantucket Flying Association (NFA) is a flying club in name only. It doesn’t have an airplane, it doesn’t have dues, and it only has a few members. But Chris McLaughlin, a former British Airways 747 captain and his wife Corrine, a British Airways purser and also a private pilot, have a plan to change all that.

The first thing Chris wants to do is let people know the Nantucket Flying Association exists. Being an island, there is a strong maritime connection. However, when it comes to aviation, all most people think about is the NBC sitcom “Wings” from the 1990s.

On a cold January night with the wind chill just above zero, Chris hoped to create a few embers and spark an interest in the fledgling flying club with a free movie night.

More than 80 people showed up to watch Shady Lady, a documentaryabout a B-24 mission from Australia to Borneo in 1942 that was the longest bombing mission ever undertaken up until that point. The movie includes scenes of the Massachusetts-based Collings Foundation B-24, painted as Shady Lady, flying off the coast of Nantucket.

“This is the first kick-off event in a series of things we’ll be doing for the community,” Chris told the crowd, which had everyone from elementary school children to a 92-year-old woman who served with the Red Cross in Europe and was stationed on a B-24 base in England during World War II. “Tonight we have our movie, and we have some speakers lined up in the coming months that will represent different aspects of aviation.” One of the confirmed speakers is NTSB Vice Chair Chris Hart.

The NFA also is sponsoring a youth aviation camp in June for kids between the ages of 8 and 14. The camp will cover a number of activities around aviation—fixed wing, helicopters, rockets, you name it, and will likely have an astronaut come and speak, Chris said.

The club was created in 2004 after a conversation over a cup of coffee at the airport restaurant. It was able to get the Blue Angels to do an air show that summer and again in 2007. They had a few barbeques, hosted a few fly-outs and fly-ins. “But it always kind of stalled. We’d be sitting around having our end of the day beer bemoaning the fact that we didn’t have a club airplane. There were a bunch of owners in our group with their own airplanes. But there is a need out there for others,” Chris said.

About a year and a half ago, Bob Egan and his wife moved back to Nantucket, where he was born and raised, to live year-round. Bob earned his private and instrument ratings at the Reading Aero Club in Pennsylvania. “I came to Nantucket and wondered where the flying club was,” he said. “That’s how the conversation started with Chris and then we pulled together a small working group to resurrect the Nantucket Flying Association.”

Partnerships and Engaging the Community

The plan is to engage the community through events and partnerships. “We just want to encourage aviation and encourage a dialogue,” Chris said. “We’re a key bunch of pilots that would really like to see a much stronger presence on Nantucket in terms of general aviation. Who hasn’t looked at the sky and seen an airplane at least once in their lives and thought, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool.’ Whether you like watching them or want to learn how to fly them or want to attend activities that are around aviation, we’re hoping to be the focal point for that.”

Chris has lots of ideas for potential partnerships and would like to use the community’s sailing club as a model. “I think they started with two boats and now they’re up to 180 or something. Hopefully we can get everybody aware of the Nantucket Flying Association and get it a part of the community like Nantucket Community Sailing—it’s a very highly thought of thing,” he said. “They get kids sailing, they teach, and you can rent boats. That’s sort of the model we’re hoping to piggyback off of.”

He’s also meeting with the Nantucket Public School system to discuss tie-ins with the club. One idea is possibly partnering with buildaplane.org. “We’re pursuing that idea, giving kids the opportunity to learn discipline, self reliance, and get a natural high instead of an artificial one. I mean what’s cooler than going up in an airplane?” Chris asked. “We’d like to incorporate ourselves into something that would be a career option, applying the math that seems so boring and applying the physics that is seemingly so irrelevant.” 

Other partners could include the Coast Guard Auxiliary, or doing flying with non-profit organizations like Pilots N Paws, Angel Flight or Patient Airlift Services (PALS). There are even some guys who are trying to start a Civil Air Patrol wing, Chris said.

Eventually the NFA would like to have a clubhouse and an airplane or two, depending on the demand, and even a simulator. But ultimately, the Nantucket Flying Association wants to be more than just a run-of-the-mill flying club. “Hopefully we’ll be a community for the greater good,” Chris said.