Bill Bailey, a charter member of AOPA who was the first to join the association among the handful of charter members still on the membership rolls, died Sunday, May 25. Bailey, age 94, of Mt. Morris, Mich., passed away at his residence, according to an obituary published in the Flint Journal.
Bailey was one of three charter members interviewed for AOPA Pilot’s May 2014 edition commemorating the association’s seventy-fifth anniversary. He told the magazine that he joined AOPA the same month he soloed. “I signed up with AOPA when they first started in May of ’39, and I soloed in May of ’39. They ran an ad in the flying magazine, telling about the AOPA, and I thought that sounded good. I’ve been a member ever since.” His member number was 1084.
Like many of his friends, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor drew the United States into World War II, Bailey—already a private pilot—enlisted in the Army Air Corps. Initially classified as a mechanic, he was assigned as an instructor in the gunnery group flying the Curtiss P-40, and later transitioned into the Republic P-47. He was scheduled to go to Europe in June 1945, but the war there ended, and his unit started training for Japan. Hostilities ceased there, too, before he could deploy, so Bailey never flew in combat.
After the war he became a civilian flight instructor in Flint, where in January 1947, one of his students had the idea of putting a fluorescent light on a service station hoist so mechanics could do a grease job—required on cars in those days—without having to hold a flashlight in addition to the grease gun and a rag. That got Bailey started in the lighting business. “At one time we had 100 employees, and two plants, and my son is still running the business today—67 years after I started it,” he said.
Bailey flew regularly for the business, and personally as well, eventually owning a Beechcraft Bonanza C35 and, later, a 1990 Bonanza A36. He also owned a Starduster biplane with a 310-horsepower turbocharged engine. “That was a great fun airplane. You could do anything—go almost straight up with it!” He sold both airplanes in 2007, following some operations for cancer.