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Philadelphia foundations help AOPA build secure future for general aviationPhiladelphia foundations help AOPA build secure future for general aviation

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J.B. "Doc" Hartranft, AOPA President 1939-1977
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John Baker, AOPA President 1977-1991
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Phil Boyer, AOPA President 1991-Present
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Max Karant, founder AOPA Pilot magazine
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AOPA HQ, Washington D.C., 1951-1972
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AOPA HQ, Bethesda, Md., 1972-1983

Just as a nation's founders gathered in Philadelphia to protect the rights of its citizens, so did five founders establish AOPA in the same city to protect the rights of general aviation pilots. Both efforts paid off. The United States today is a world political leader and advocate for human rights. AOPA today is the world's general aviation leader and staunch advocate for aviator rights.

AOPA's Expo 2003 in Philadelphia from Oct. 30-Nov. 1 is an appropriate time to reflect upon historical AOPA traditions started by its founders in 1939. As have America's Declaration of Independence since 1776 and Constitution since 1789, so those AOPA traditions have proven their staying power over the course of time to ensure the future of general aviation.

Encouraging new pilots

"Keep flying fun, safe, and affordable" has been the essence of AOPA since the beginning. AOPA quickly encouraged passage of U.S. legislation in 1939 that created the Civilian Pilot Training Program. CPTP subsidized flight-training costs, which stimulated aircraft sales and subsequently provided pilots who served in World War II. Today AOPA publishes Flight Training , an appropriately titled magazine that reflects a continuing deep dedication to helping anyone become a pilot.

A brand-new AOPA immediately teamed with the National Advisory Council for Aeronautics, a precursor to today's National Aeronautics and Space Administration, to discuss designing an affordable single-engine airplane. And the fledgling group pushed for a reduction in the cost of pilot medical examination fees. It also encouraged construction of new airports to improve safety and accessibility. Today a separate AOPA department is steadfastly devoted to guiding pilots through the labyrinth of federal medical certificate rules. And another department manages the Airport Support Network, which strives to preserve airports that are threatened by commercial development.

National security

The AOPA Air Guard indoctrinated about 5,000 pilots to military rules and procedures as war loomed in 1940. This pilot pool would be used to enroll wartime fliers. When America entered the war in December 1941, all civilian flying was threatened, but AOPA helped create a compromise pilot identification program satisfying military demands and civilian regulations that allowed registered pilots to keep flying with only coastline and borderline flight restrictions. Since Sept. 11, 2001, AOPA has worked tirelessly with the FAA, TSA, and other agencies to ensure that GA plays a crucial role in maintaining national security—Airport Watch encourages pilots to report suspicious airport activity—without compromising GA flight operations.

AOPA continued to have a hand in the growth and development of aviation after World War II. When the federal government proposed radio communications for all aircraft, AOPA told regulators that tube-based radios were too heavy for the lighter weight aircraft. Radios would subsequently be required only in aircraft flying at the busiest airports. A half-century later, pilots can still enjoy the luxury of safely flying at hundreds of airports and traveling hundreds of miles without turning on a radio, if they desire.

Navigation modernization

AOPA instructed pilots in the late 1940s on usage of the brand-new very-high frequency omnidirectional range, or VOR. The navigational aids that were spreading out across the county helped pilots precisely guide airplanes in good and bad weather, concurrently improving fuel efficiency and safety. While land-based VORs continue to serve aviation in a new century, the aviation community is now transitioning to satellite-based navigation. AOPA was an early advocate of civilian use of the military's Global Positioning System and later pushed for the GPS Wide Area Augmentation System. Using GPS-WAAS, almost every runway in the nation can have an ILS-like instrument approach without spending the more than $1 million that a typical ILS installation costs.

Midair collisions in the 1950s led to proposals banning light aircraft from airports served by airlines. AOPA successfully fought to preserve GA access to every airport. AOPA efforts to create a "universal communications" link between airplanes helped establish the standard "unicom" frequency, in part to facilitate position reports while landing and obtaining airport weather information. AOPA would subsequently play a role in setting standards for today's more formalized common traffic advisory frequency (CTAF) for pilots to report respective positions using an assigned frequency.

Safety sense

AOPA's safety emphasis brought about the AOPA Air Safety Foundation in 1950. Throughout that decade, the ASF "180-degree" rating taught basic instrument flying to thousands of non-instrument-rated pilots. ASF has grown to become the world's largest nonprofit organization devoted to GA safety. Its safety efforts today range from research to innovative pilot education programs, including interactive Web-based teaching. ASF pioneered the weekend Flight Instructor Refresher Clinics and today, in partnership with Jeppesen, offers the premier CFI Online Renewal Course to keep flight instructors current and fully prepared to pass along the latest safe-flying techniques to all pilots.

AOPA's primary means of communicating with its members from 1939 until 1958 was an insert in Popular Aviation, which was renamed Flying magazine. That insert became called AOPA Pilot, and in 1958 it "soloed" as a stand-alone magazine. The publications division would subsequently publish the nation's most comprehensive airport directory, a pilot handbook, and specialized magazines for ultralights and turbine-powered aircraft. AOPA Pilot remains the headliner today, and it is complemented by AOPA Flight Training magazine and Flight School Business newsletter. AOPA's Airport Directory remains a popular member benefit, and it is available online with the most current updates. More recently, Internet-based ePilot publications started disseminating late-breaking aviation news and crucial flight-safety information to member subscribers via e-mail, including regionalized advanced notification of presidential and security temporary flight restrictions (TFRs).

Wings on the Web

Today's AOPA Online ( offers around-the-clock and around-the-globe access to the association plus information about general aviation via any Web browser. While much of the information is "for members only," more than one third is accessible to anyone, from a teenager making career plans to a news reporter seeking up-to-date statistics about general aviation. In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, AOPA Online established the precedent for fully informing pilots at practically any hour of the day or night about airspace closures and restrictions.

Only three AOPA presidents in a 64-year-old history are a testament to the Board of Trustees' focused continuity of management. The first employee was J.B. "Doc" Hartranft, Jr., who was general manager until 1952, then president until 1977; Hartranft died in 2002. John L. Baker was AOPA president from 1977 through 1990; he has retired to North Carolina. Phil Boyer has been at the controls for 13 years having guided AOPA through some of general aviation's most difficult times when GA flights were grounded in September 2001 well beyond the airline grounding.

AOPA was temporarily based in Philadelphia before moving to Chicago. During World War II, AOPA headquarters moved to Washington, D.C., to better represent the members before the rapidly growing federal bureaucracy. By 1951, headquarters would move to Washington's suburban Bethesda and, finally, in 1983, move to the Frederick (Md.) Municipal Airport.

With 400,000 members, today AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization, working to protect the interests of general aviation. Nearly two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of AOPA.


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