A group of Bonanza owners share the love for their airplanes at an American Bonanza Society convention. (Photo by American Bonanza Society)
Type Clubs in the Digital Age
Around the beginning of factory production of airplanes, which happened a mere handful of years after the dawn of powered flight, it occurred to aviators that it was in their strong interest to establish groups of airplane owners and pilots within the overall pilot community. Aero clubs sprang up in Europe and North America as the aviation community and industry flourished.
As a growing number of airplane manufacturers established themselves, grew and even began to shut their doors, owners of legacy airplanes were faced with common, vexing problems, like getting proper support for their airplanes. As any airplane owner knows, when something breaks on a Luscombe Silvaire, for example, it’s a lot more likely that another Luscombe owner will know how to get it fixed than will the owner of, say, a Cherokee 140. Likewise, owners of like airplanes are able to share operating quirks (tricks for executing a successful crosswind landing, for instance); recommend reliable and experienced maintenance providers; and point out potential trouble spots to keep an eye on during next year’s annual inspection.
There was also a natural tendency for owners of Stearmans, for example, to seek out other owners of Stearmans to share the love of big, round-engine biplane flying. After all, everybody likes it when other people really understand them. Pilots are no different.
With these common needs, owners and enthusiasts began to form type clubs. The problem was, there were and are lots of different kinds of airplanes out there, so at any given airport there might be just one or two Ercoupes, Musketeers or Stinsons. The solution was to reach out around the country and around the globe to attract type owners, a process that, back in the bad old days, was done by snail mail.
This early system of communication made type clubs costly to run. With mailing lists to maintain, a newsletter or, in the case of big-time type clubs, a magazine to produce, events to plan and important information to disseminate, several full-time employees were required, and direct communication between members was scant.
With the growth of the Internet and digital media, the services type clubs provide can be offered online, and, consequently, the number of type clubs has exploded. These days, starting a type club is as easy as starting a Facebook or Yahoo group. Type clubs now range from small groups of local pilots who own the same types of airplanes and gather for $100 hamburgers to major organizations that provide technical support and great training options. And the explosion of the Internet has also allowed type clubs to disseminate information much more quickly than was possible with snail mail as the only form of distribution.
Many type clubs are similar to each other, but there can be big differences too. Some, like the Cessna Pilots Association, cover a wide range of models with thousands of members, while others, like the VG-21 Squadron, essentially cover one model — in this case, variants of the Varga Kachina (a handsome little two-seater with very few examples flying), with just more than 100 members. The Varga type club serves a particularly important role, as the company that built the airplane is long gone.
Other type clubs — like the ones that cover the Daher-Socata TBM, Piper Malibu and Pilatus PC-12, for example — are for airplanes that are still being built and supported by dynamic companies. And some, like the Mooney Aircraft Pilots Association, were started at the request of the manufacturer. Type clubs come in different sizes and serve many different purposes. The common thread among them is the desire to connect, whether online or at a major airshow, where members of type clubs not only socialize but often also set up booths to provide information and recruit new members.
Early Type Clubs
Type-specific support is one of the many reasons type clubs exist, and it is the reason one of the earliest clubs, the National Waco Club, came about in 1958. Waco found the management of parts too costly for its business and handed over the responsibility to Raymond H. Bradley, who had purchased several Wacos from the factory. Since Bradley was the go-to guy for parts, a group of owners who were part of the Antique Airplane Association got together and asked him to lead a Waco group. Soon the National Waco Club was formed and quickly started a newsletter and an organized annual social fly-in reunion, which the organization still runs to this day.