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Oldest flying club in the US

A history of aviation in Massachusetts

When a flying club was founded 27 years before the FAA and 16 years before the United States Air Force, it’s fair to say it’s been around for a while.
Photography by Steve Schapiro.
Photography by Steve Schapiro.

The Brockton Flying Club based in Taunton, Massachusetts, fits that definition. The club first took flight 92 years ago in 1931.

That makes Brockton the oldest continuously active flying club in the country, as far as the AOPA Flying Clubs Initiative staff can tell. The Clemson University Flying Club is older, having started in 1927. However, it was inactive during World War II. The Reading Aero Club in Pennsylvania is a close second to Brockton, formed in 1932.

For a little context on how long the Brockton Flying Club has been around, in 1931 Herbert Hoover was president, the average price of a car was $640, and the average new home cost $6,790.

Over the decades many things have changed, but some have not. “We’re still at 10 members and we all own a share,” club member Jerry Fletcher said. “The regulations were set up years ago and everyone abides by them.”

Fletcher knows the club better than most. He’s 85 and has been in the club for 40 years. But perhaps more impressive is that his father, Robert Fletcher, was also in the club—about 80 years ago.

Fletcher isn’t sure exactly when his father joined the club, but he does remember club meetings at their home when he was very young. Robert earned his pilot certificate in 1938, the year Jerry was born, and one of the first things he did was fly a Piper J–3 Cub from Massachusetts to the Cleveland Air Races.

He wrote about that trip in the October 1938 issue of Yankee Pilot. He talked about flying over Manhattan at 8,000 feet (in a Cub!), navigating by following the Erie Canal, power lines and railroad tracks, and even getting passed by a freight train. Robert owned the Cub, which was common for club members at the time.

In 1933, the 10 members of the club pooled their money together to buy the Brockton club’s first airplane. It was a Curtiss-Wright CW–1 Junior, a two-seat, open-cockpit taildragger with a pusher engine mounted on top of the wing.

Another early club aircraft was a Jacobs Spartan C–2, according to a 1933 entry in the logbook of club member Mel Wood. Only 16 of the low-wing, open-cockpit monoplanes with side-by-side seating were made. One still exists at the Western Antique Aeroplane and Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River, Oregon (“Flying Hood River,” September 2023 AOPA Pilot).

The club continued operating during World War II as part of the Civil Air Patrol, looking for German U-boats off the New England Coast. Among the members who flew CAP missions were Robert Fletcher, Roy Owens, and Everett King. On one flight in 1943, Everett spotted an oil slick near Block Island, just past the tip of Long Island. The next day other coastal patrols spotted more oil and U.S. Navy ships sank a submarine.

Photography by Steve Schapiro.
Among the relics of the Brockton Flying Club is this logbook.
Photography by Steve Schapiro.
Photography by Steve Schapiro.

Everett was blind in one eye, and was classified 4-F, meaning he was unfit for military duty. During the war he worked in a factory covering control surfaces on Waco gliders and flew for the CAP. His family founded Taunton Municipal Airport/King Field (TAN), where the club has been based since the 1940s or 1950s. His sister Ora King Stevens was one of the first female pilots in Massachusetts and ran the airport for years.

In 1944, the club bought an Aeronca Chief for $1,700 and in 1961 bought a Cessna 170B. For the past 40 years, the club has been flying a 1979 Cessna 172N purchased in 1984, just before the younger Fletcher joined the club. While that sounds like a long time, the Athol-Orange Aero Club, also based in Massachusetts, had the same Aeronca Champ in its fleet for 75 years.

The club continued operating during World War II, looking for German U-boats off the New England coast.When Fletcher joined the Brockton club shares were $5,000 (today they are $22,000), dues were $30 a month, and there were some old timers that were still part of the club. “I think there were at least two guys, maybe three when I joined in 1985 that were still members, Judge Hale and Mel Woods,” he said.

That means Woods, who was flying the Spartan in 1933, was in the club for more than 50 years. Hale was chief justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court from 1972 to 1984. Another high-profile member was Congressman Hastings Keith who was in office from 1959 to 1973 and bought a share in the Brockton Flying Club so he could “better serve his constituents on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard,” according to a newspaper clipping from 1961 about the club’s anniversary.

The same 1961 article mentioned one early club member who went on to become a vice president of KLM Airlines, while another, Howard Brooks, left to join Flying Tigers Airline. Fletcher remembered a few retired airline pilots from the 1940s and 1950s, too. “There was a guy that flew American Airlines DC–3s for a living and a guy that flew Constellations for TWA who became an instructor pilot,” Fletcher said.

Not all the members have had such a pedigree, but what they all shared was a camaraderie and love of aviation. “We’ve always had good members,” he said. “I think it’s compatibility of the pilots.”

Although he grounded himself after breaking his leg last year, Fletcher has no desire to leave the club he grew up in as a kid when his dad was a member and has called home for the past 40 years. “Whether I keep flying or not, I’ll always stay a member of the club,” he said.

Steve Schapiro is the editor of Club Connector, an online publication of the AOPA You Can Fly Flying Clubs initiative.

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