Skyline Soaring Club in the Twentieth Century
By Jim Kellett, January, 2000
Chapter I, The Beginnings
Note: This section borrows heavily from Jack Perine's previously referenced work. A complete copy of his history of M-ASA, which includes the clubs that preceded it, can be read on the Internet.
In the early 1930's, airline pilot Shelly Charles operated an open primary glider from auto-tow at the old Washington-Hoover Airport (where the Pentagon stands today). His flights were usually of short duration before an appreciative Sunday afternoon crowd. In the late 1930's, Peter Riedel, the Air Attaché at the German Embassy operated a "Kranich" sailplane from College Park, MD.
The most prominent pre-war (WWII) club was the Washington Glider Club, which operated a "Franklyn Utility" from Congressional Airport where the Congressional Shopping Center in Rockville is today. One of its members was entertainer Arthur Godfrey.
Another club was the Engineering Research Corp. Club, the builders of the pre-war "Ercoupe" who operated at the old Hybla Valley airport. Memberships were $12, and Jack Perine's first solo while in 2nd year high school was in their primary glider.
Then came the war, and most gliders were taken over by the government, and the owners compensated for them. Peter Riedel's beautiful "Kranich" was said to have rotted to pieces. The war itself greatly helped soaring get off the ground, so to speak. The German invasion of Crete utilizing gliders spurred our military to become glider-minded, and for training purposes purchased quantities of militarized version of the pre-war Schweizer SGS 2-8 and the Laister-Kauffmann "Yankee Doodle." Designed during the war were the Schweizer TG-3 and the Pratt-Read LNE-1. Eventually the military found that these were all of too high performance to be useful as trainers for troop gliders, and after little use, most were put in storage and sold as surplus during the closing months of the war.
The importance of this cannot be over-emphasized. This availability of two-place high performance sailplanes at a price that many could afford, even in those money-scarce postwar days made it possible for many clubs on a limited budget to form and successfully operate. It may be of interest in view of today's $18,000 sailplanes that the surplus Pratt-Read, brand new and on trailer, sold for $350.
The first post-war club was the Washington Soaring Club, formed around 3 Pratt-Reads and a Laister-Kauffmann. This group operated in 1946-1948 at the old Schrom Airport at Greenbelt, and present M-ASA members who were members of that club are Bill Ebert and Jack Perine. There were about 8 active members, and when the club disbanded after a few years, one Pratt-Read, NG0745, was sold to a newly forming group called the District of Columbia Soaring Club. Nate Frank was one of its members.
To publicize gliding, this club held the first Mid-Atlantic Soaring Contest at Beacon Field on August 4, 5, 6, 1949. Beacon Field was then on US-1 just south of Alexandria, and probably in part due to its close proximity of Washington, the meet received unequalled newspaper coverage. Flying was of a local nature for the benefit of the spectators. Points were given for duration, altitude gain, and spot landings. Kim Scribner of Flushing, New York won the meet. Kim thrilled the crowd with low-level glider aerobatics such as slow rolls on tow and outside loops in his Schweizer 1-23 sailplane. Twelve pilots competed for the championship.
The second Mid-Atlantic was held again at Beacon Field, Virginia on June 18-19, 1950, which Perine won, flying a modified Laister-Kauffmann sailplane.
By February, 1951, most local soaring pilots were operating from Martinsburg Municipal Airport in West Virginia where the operator, Mr. Dick Zebley, was especially anxious to have them, providing fee hangars at a modest price. A local cropduster, Mr. Russell Howard, provided tows with a Stearman at a flat $1 per thousand, and after gave us a display of aerobatics on the way down for another tow.
In the winter of 1951, a few area pilots attended an organizational meeting of the then-forming northeastern States Soaring Association in New York City. Its purpose was to promote soaring. On the way home from this meeting they discussed the need for its counterpart here - New York seemed so far off. Jack Perinevolunteered to send out notices for the Mid-Atlantic Soaring Association's first meeting.
The first meeting was held at the home of Mr. Harold Fawcett, 5523 13th St., N.W., Washington, D.C. on Friday the 21st of March 1952. Most of the rest of 1952 was spent trying to recruit new members, and before December we had reorganized twice. By the end of 1952, the fledgling Club numbered 34 members, about 15 of whom could be called active.
At the end of 1953, they had 12 gliders and sailplanes, two of which were owned by clubs within our club, and the rest individually owned; MASA not owning any equipment at all. They were still operating out of Martinsburg and buying tows from the local cropduster. The Club was very active socially, frequently hosting things like open houses and even a dinner-dance!
In early 1954, disaster struck when the cropduster sold his Stearman leaving the club without any towplane. After a short search, the club bought its first corporate aircraft, a Meyers OTW biplane with a Warner 145 radial engine for something less than $850!
M-ASA moved its base of operations around quite a bit over the next decade. When a lack of hangar space became a problem at Martinsburg, they moved to Westminster, MD in 1954. About this time, M-ASA member Floyd Sweet became President of the SSA. (Floyd served for many years as the Region IV Director for SSA.). In December, they moved back to Martinsburg, new hangars having been completed
Initially, M-ASA was intended to be an organization of private owners, but in 1955 the Directors began to think about club ownership of sailplanes to be made available to those who could not afford their own aircraft. This was a turbulent issue, and the cause of some lively discussions.
By 1956, the airspace (and hangars) at Martinsburg was getting really crowded with the arrival of an Air Reserve unit. The FBO terminated their lease, and in October, 1956 the club moved to Winchester, VA. Winchester was not seen as well suited for the club as either Martinsburg or Westminster. The May, 1958 meeting of the club was lively as members debated a move to either Leesburg (where Arthur Godfrey had offered hangar space) or Westminster (where club President MacLeod was the airport manager). There was a split in the club, with four members taking two sailplanes to Leesburg and the rest (including the Meyers towplane) moving in May to Westminster, after a one month "trial" operation by three members at the Front Royal, VA airport.
In March of 1962, Gordon Bogora was elected President of M-ASA. Gordon had a driving personality, rather different from his predecessor. He served as President for three years.
By 1966, the club had once again outgrown the hangar space available at Westminster, so moved again to its present location at the Frederick MD airport where the city of Frederick later built hangars for them. Later still, the club purchased the airport at Fairfield, PA where they still operate a second gliderport.