With this May 2013 issue of Hangar Echoes, we celebrate the chapter’s 50th anniversary. The issues of Hangar Echoes, from the very first in 1963 to this issue, represents 600 entries in the historical documentation of Chapter 168. It is mind boggling to think of how three generations (i.e.,from say, Cavin to Asberry to Stephan) of stories have been recorded and how many airplanes have been part of Chapter 168. And a new 4th generation is now joining our chapter. This article will provide a brief chronology and highlight some events from our first 50 years.
Dick Cavin detailed in the May 1978 issue of Hangar Echoes the first 15 years of Chapter 168. It contained thumbnail sketches on all 15 charter members and a year by year account of chapter activities. It also included a copy of the very first 168 newsletter called the Dope Bucket. I am sure the name worked well until the mid 1960s when dope meant something other than a product to finish the fabric on airplane. The newsletter became Hangar Echoes.
The year was 1963 and the place was an open air porch on the front of a little pilot’s lounge at the old White Rock Airport by the lake. The occasion for these 15 people was to form a new EAA chapter. The story really starts in 1955 when in those early days it was hard to round up enough people interested in “homebuilts” in the total Dallas Fort Worth area to form a chapter. Yet they found the sufficient ten people to start the DalWorth Chapter 34 in Arlington. By early 1963 there was considerable interest in forming a new EAA chapter to serve the Dallas area. So on May 4th 1963, the following 15 people started Chapter 168. Nearly half of the 15 were also charter members of Chapter 34.
Stan Billotte, Merle Green, Larry Nichols, Jack Bullard, Paul Keys, Pete Ohlson, Dick Cavin, Cynthia Keys, Francis Richardson, Owen Elliott, Joe Linex, Merle Soule, Cecil Ferguson, Fred Mitchell, and Jim Swick
Joe Linex ran a TV repair shop in Richardson and was working on an original design similar to the Fly Baby. Unfortunately, most of that original group is now gone. Joe left us last year in February at age 83. He never left the house for the airport without taking his son, Martin. Today Martin Linex is the only person who can recall those early days even before 1963.
By the 1970s Martin had his own Fly Baby out at the Air Park airport. Today in Greenville, he has his dad’s original Fly Baby and Charlie Grant’s first Starduster One. Martin’s connection with early 168 goes on with his aviation godfather Jack Bullard. They stayed in touch for decades. Jack who had a background in aviation (worked at Douglas during WW II) and the enthusiasm to make him the natural choice for president for the first few years. He was working on an original design called the “Bullard Blackhawk”. But in 1962 the new T-18 design came out and caught his eye as it did with many other chapter members. Yet, Jack’s real forte was in the field of commercial art. Martin tells the story of how Jack was having breakfast with Cecil Green and Patrick Haggerty when Pat said, “Texas Instruments is going public on the stock exchange and is in need of a logo”. Jack started doodling on a napkin and when they got up to leave Jack said “what do you think of this logo?” Cecil and Pat instantly liked it and wanted to know what he wanted for it. Free was the answer but Pat stuffed a twenty in his pocket as they left. The next time you drive past TI look at the logo with the lower case “ti” in the outline of Texas and think of Chapter 168’s first president.
Dick Cavin wrote in our newsletter how frequently Jack mentioned that the president’s job was like a country preacher’s. There was a considerable amount of gladhanding and back slapping that was necessary to make people feel at ease and assure them they were not only welcome, but well liked and needed. It has to be sincere, as nothing communicates as quickly as insincerity. He was a natural for the first president of our chapter. During mid-year 1969 Jack Bullard moved to Colorado Springs.
A chronology of Chapter 168 would not be complete without covering the real spark plug that made things happen for the first 30 years; Dick Cavin. Last month we had a special biography of Dick Cavin. The July 1983 issue paid tribute to Dick for all of his contributions to Chapter 168, and the May 1996 issue was dedicated to Dick Cavin with a summary of his aviation life. At that time, our chapter put Dick’s name on the EAA Memorial Wall in Oshkosh as an everlasting tribute to someone who loved and supported experimental aviation.
A number of big events have taken place during our chapter’s life that got us recognition in the Dallas news media. The first came in 1964 when a new cub reporter from the Dallas Times Herald (yes, Dallas had two major newspapers) went out to Dick Cavin’s house, took some pictures of his T-18 and wrote his heart out on an article. As luck will have it, on the next Sunday there was an absence of news, so on page one was a picture of Dick and his T-18. This started a stampede of the curious. The chapter was totally unprepared for the 63 people who showed up for the next meeting. With respect to the T-18, it hit a high water mark when 29 active projects in the Metroplex area were completed. As Dick mentioned in a newsletter, Chapter 168’s fortunes went hand in hand with the T-18 boom for several years. It’s interesting that history would repeat itself some 40 years later with the “total performance” Van’s Aircraft boom. 1967 and 1968 saw Bob Foote, the chapter’s vice president, organize Hidden Valley Airpark, the first such type home site airport in the area. Later Ken Larson built the first hangar at Air Park. The November 1968 meeting went to over 100 members and visitors for the 1st time. As mentioned in the biography of Dick Cavin, in October 1968 VanGrunsven flew the RV-1 down to Addison and $3750 was exchanged. In 1971, Dick received the first set of plans for the RV-3. There are so many descendants of that RV-1 in our chapter today. Also in 1968, six Starduster Too’s were started of which John Snyder’s was simply outstanding.
The chapter in 1970 had Bill Rogers as president and Jay Carter as its vice president. This vice president was a young engineer that had space age ideas about aircraft using fiberglass, pusher engines, and canards. His design was to have a steam engine. Well, he moved to Burkburnett, Texas just north of Wichita Falls where 24 years later in 1994 he started CarterCopters, a small, advanced aeronautics company. In February 1970, a number of chapter members got together and started Kitty Hawk airport way out in the country near Allen. Chapter 168 had a number of fly-ins at Kitty Hawk and several times a Braniff pilot would see to it that that we were impressed with a very low pass over the field in a Boeing 707. You could never do that today and Kitty Hawk closed in 2011.
1977 was a big year for EAA, both nationally and for our local chapter. And it was 168’s second Dallas news media coverage. EAA took their replica of the Spirit of St Louis and retraced Lindbergh’s national tour that he made after his famous flight. One of his stops was Dallas Love Field. This turned out to be a gold mine of publicity for our local chapter as the TV helicopters followed the Sprit of St Louis from Fort Worth to Love Field. It was also a salt mine of hard work by a lot of dedicated people in Chapter 168.
Another replica of interest had its roots in our chapter. At Oshkosh 1990, chapter member Lea Abbott (age 83) flew his replica 1910 Curtiss Pusher at Oshkosh and donated it to the EAA Aviation Foundation.
The next big news media event came in 1980. Lisa Gibbons was hosting PM Magazine (later she did Entertainment Tonight and Extra) on Channel 8 and came to our Lancaster fly-in. That evening we had about 20 minutes of flying and interviews. I specifically remember the interview with Bob Cutler who flew a Piper Pacer that he gave the name “Spirit of Poverty”.
During the first 15 years many of the chapter members worked for Braniff, Texas Instruments or Collins Radio. In fact, many people thought this chapter was attached to Braniff. I credit Bill Rogers who was a TIer for introducing me to the big wide world of sport aviation. Local TV weatherman and Congressman Dale Milford joined our chapter with a Buckaroo (military tandem Swift) restoration. Jim Swick was appointed our 1st chapter Designee Inspector which proceeded today’s Tech Counselor. Several newsletters ago we briefly described how Jim lead a group of 168 members in building an American version of the Bücker “Jungmeister”. In addition to Jim’s Bücker, Charley Lamb, John Nyquist, and Ken Larson finished an example. Ken’s is the Bücker hanging in Frontiers of Flight Museum today. Starting in 1991, John Crook’s Wednesday Night All Metal Ugly Airplane Building Club was building a Zenair CH-701 from plans. A number of members including Sam Cooper were involved with that effort.
A big tradition during the 1980s was the Mary Jane and Henry Odlozil chapter fall fly-in and pot luck picnic. This event was held 13 times at their grass strip south of Ennis. This was a family affair. They did it all including the fabulous Czech food. I remember a photo with at least 25 family members.
This brings me to another “couple” who have been “involved” and I do mean involved in this chapter since 1983. This is a true aviation inseparable couple as any photo of Mel Asberry also has Ann Asberry. Let me put some meaning into involvement. They picked up from the Odlozils with the annual chapter picnic at their airstrip, Short Stop in Farmersville. And they have been inviting the chapter out for an annual post Christmas party. Mel was the recipient of EAA’s 2005 Tony Bingelis Award, which recognized his involvement as an active volunteer Technical Counselor since 1984, Flight Advisor since 1994 and aircraft builder. Mel and Ann built two RVs simultaneously in the early 1990s, one for themselves and one for Red Marron. Starting in early 1999, Mel became a FAA DAR (Designated Airworthiness Inspector) which meant that we could get a real airworthiness inspection. And finally Mel has been Chapter 168’s Safety Officer with a high percentage of his newsletter articles promoting safety. He also is a contributor to Kitplanes. Mel and Ann have each served as president several years and have been on the chapter board for years.
Another key couple in our chapter was Owen and Vivian Bruce. In honor of his 42 years with Chapter 168 and 50 years with EAA, this chapter in 2007 placed Owens name on the EAA Memorial Wall in Oshkosh. He joined EAA in 1953 and was EAA member 629. He joined Chapter 168 in 1964, and was a long time dedicated Technical Counselor. The memorial wall was our way of saying thanks to Owen for sharing his talents and enthusiasm with all of us. Many of us remember his large collection of aircraft magazines and photographs. Many times he was our featured monthly program where he would show his 35mm slides of all kinds of aircraft. There was never an aircraft that he could not identify. He had an incredible memory. He had the stick and rudder skills to fly with Jim Rushing in his Mustang II for a number of years. In 1986 Owen and Jim acquired a Luscombe 8E and proceeded on a total restoration. In November 1988 they finished it and proceeded to Oshkosh and the National Luscombe Convention in Ohio. They won the top award everywhere they went with that Luscombe. A very complete bio for Owen was published in a 2007 Hangar Echoes.
With respect to our chapter’s presidents, take a look at the table which lists each president by year. As you can see a number have served more than one year. Note that Owen Bruce and Mack Cobb were president in 1972 and 1974 respectively. And that Sam Cooper holds the record for being president six times.
It seems like the chapter went through a lot of sadness for a number of years. It started in August 1977 with a double tragedy. Jim Jackson was killed near Sherman flying Lew Shaw’s Akrostar and Ken Gersbach, who had been our president, lost his life in stall spin accident in the Sidewinder while on a night landing into Air Park. In March 1979 we lost a long-time member, G.A. Clardy. He took off from Kitty Hawk turned down wind and slowly flew into the ground. Many of us took our first homebuilt ride in Clardy’s T-18. In August 1980, Hugh Grammer lost his life in a Cherokee accident in Mexico.
Charter member Francis Richardson and his son, Danny, were killed in a T-18 pre-landing accident at Neosho, MO on their way to Oshkosh 1982. This was a major shock to Dick Cavin. He and Francis were close long-time friends. A major shock to Ken Krebaum and myself was the tragic loss of Larry Grimm and his son, Wade, on a flight to Oshkosh in the Cavalier in July 1991. It was a bad stretch for Chapter 168, but the last twenty plus years have been good.
It is interesting to look at 50 years of Hangar Echoes. The change has been dramatic with respect to presentation. The May 1963 newsletter was one page of news and announcements. Dick Cavin wrote virtually every word in our newsletter for the first 20 years. During the middle 1970s Jim Patterson, a Barracuda builder, did the art work drawing for the cover of Hangar Echoes. There were no pictures for the first 12 years. Then came photographs for the cover only. About 20 years ago the great Robrucha cartoons by long time chapter member Bob Chambers started showing up in our newsletter. Does the Robrucha character remind you of someone? It seems like Mel and Ann Asberry appeared in many of Bob’s cartoons. In fact Mel has a couple of Bob’s original works.
Doug Vail gets the credit for leading us into the computer age for developing the newsletter. In 1996, I edited the Hangar Echoes for several years. Michael Stephan picked up the duty at the turn of the century and brought us into the internet age. With the help of David Buono for several years, Michael has been editing the newsletter for over a decade.
Like any organization, the people over a 50 year period continue to change. The 1977 membership roster lists a number of names that many of us will remember as being significant to us. I would love to list them all but we don’t have the space. Names listed in 1977 that we know today are Marvin Brott, Clair Button, Henry Odlozil, Klaus Truemper, Howard Walrath, Leon Rausch, and Ken Krebaum.
Looking back at what those 15 charter members were facing when building and flying experimental aircraft, you have to be amazed by the advances in sport aviation during the past five decades. With the advent of the electronics age, computer aided design coupled with computer aided manufacturing changed significantly the airplane kits we have today. And our airplane is information rich and can fly itself. That’s a long way from that Fly Baby.
It is also really nice to look back five decades once in a while and savor the people and events of yester-year. Yet the way forward is to direct our thoughts and energies towards the future. The EAA of tomorrow is what we’re doing about it today. The challenges for the future are significant.
Unhappily the airplane for the younger generation has ceased to be an object of desire for adventure and the barriers to personal aviation have increased.
Our chapter is now 50 years old and its longevity has been made possible only by dedicated leadership and members. As I look at 50 years of newsletters, it is overwhelming to see the labor-of-love that was put into all aspects of this chapter by our members. My disappointment with writing this summary is that there so many additional stories about outstanding members and their aviation activities that could be included. But, they still live on in those 600 Hangar Echoes.