Aircraft Spotlight: Holding Onto Something Good. Flying the Same Champ for 75 years at the Athol Orange Aero Club

If you’ve got a good thing going, you might as well keep it. That’s exactly what the Athol-Orange Aero Club believes. In 1946, the club bought a new Aeronca Champ which remained part of the club’s fleet for 75 years before being replaced in 2021.

They’re not the only club that holds onto things. The Camas Washougal Flying Club has a J-3 Cub that it acquired in 1963 just after the club was formed, and 60 years later they’re still proudly flying it!

A club with a long, (un)conventional history

The Athol-Orange Aero Club in north-central Massachusetts was established in October 1937 and is one of the oldest flying clubs in the country. (See the June 2018 Club Spotlight about Athol-Orange and this month’s Club Spotlight about the Brockton Flying Club, which we believe is the oldest club in the U.S., dating back to 1931).

The first two planes Athol-Orange owned were a J-2 Taylor Cub and a J-3 Piper Cub. The hourly rate was just $2 and that included fuel!

Over the club’s 86-year history, it has owned 19 different aircraft. They’ve had six Taylorcraft, four J-3 Cubs, three Cessna 172s, two Aeronca Champs, one J-5 Cub, one PA-16 Clipper, a Cessna 140, a Cessna 150, and a partridge in a pear tree. If you’re keeping track, all but four have been conventional gear aircraft. For the club’s 70th anniversary in 2007 they made a T-shirt that listed all the planes (the only one missing was acquired in 2021).

Today the club’s 42 members share four aircraft—a 1972 Cessna 172, a 1961 Cessna 150 with the fast back (no rear window) and straight tail, a 1941 Taylorcraft BL-65 (see Aircraft Spotlight June 2018) and a 1946 Aeronca Champ. Rates are still extremely affordable. The T-Craft and Champ are $50 an hour, the C-150 is $65, and the C-172 is $90, and rates are wet. Dues are just $25 a month and the initiation fee is currently $3,000.

Until a few years ago, the club also had a 1949 Piper PA-16 Clipper, which it purchased in 1950 and flew continuously for 64 years until selling it to a member in 2014.

The Taylorcraft has officially been part of the club since 1987, which makes it a relative newbie in the fleet with 36 years of service. But its connection to the club goes back to 1946. That’s when club member Charles A. Frenier purchased the plane. He flew it for 41 years before donating to the club.


The Champ

In the summer of 1946, Erwin “Stocky” Stockwell went to Middletown, Ohio to pick up Champ N83563 from the Aeronca factory. As he planned his flight home from Hook Field, now called Middletown Municipal Airport (MWO), to Orange Municipal Airport (ORE) in Massachusetts, he surely knew the straight-line distance was about 575 nm—there’s no way he could have known how long a journey that Champ would have with the Athol-Orange Aero Club.

For the next 75 years, it was part of the club’s fleet. Living up to its name, their Champ gets the gold medal for being the longest serving aircraft in any flying club fleet that we know about. (If your club has operated the same aircraft for 50 or more years, we’d love to hear about—send an email to [email protected])

“There are people that flew that thing for decades,” Athol-Orange President Doug Mowry said. “It was the heart and soul of the club.”

Over the years, club members logged 6,802 hours in the plane. It flew on skis in the winter, and a member even flew to Oshkosh as recently as 2018.

The Continental 65-hp engine was overhauled twice and the aircraft fabric was recovered twice. The plane would still be flying today, but sadly it was damaged beyond repair in a ground incident in 2021.

“It was a really painful thing for the club,” Doug said. “From a sentimental point of view, it’s a Champ. There are a gazillion Champs out there. But it was our Champ. So that hurt.”



What’s old is new again

The club discussed repairing the aircraft, but the cost was just too much. But as fate would have it, there was a 1946 Champ in a hangar 150 feet down the taxiway from the club’s hangar. The owner was in his 80s and at a point where he probably wasn’t going to fly it anymore, Doug said.



The Athol-Orange Treasurer Dave Dugas knew the owner and that he might be looking to sell the plane, and that’s exactly what happened. “We literally walked down the taxiway to another hangar and replaced our Champ with another Champ,” Doug said. “We settled on a price that was essentially the insurance payout, so it didn’t cost us anything.”

Looking at the two planes, you probably couldn’t tell the difference. They both had the original orange and yellow paint scheme, and the tail numbers are close – the original Champ was 83563 and the new Champ is 83690. The serial numbers on the planes, like the N-numbers, are just 127 apart.

Historic Hangar

If you want a roster of members who flew the Champ along with Stocky when the club first got the plane, all you have to do is look down. Scrawled into the concrete floor of the hangar are the names of club members from 1947.

That’s when the club purchased a “Bayley All Metal Prefabricated Tee Hangar” kit and built adjoining T-Hangars.  As you look into the hangars, the Champ is on the left and the club’s Taylorcraft is on the right—which is still true today, sort of. In 1958, the club ordered another kit and added a third hangar on the end. The Taylorcraft hangar is now in the middle.


 Camas Washougal Flying Club’s J-3 Cub

While the Athol-Orange Flying Club had its Champ for 75 years, and its Piper Clipper for 64 years, its not the only club that has a long track record with the same plane.

The Camas Washougal Flying Club has only had one plane—a 1938 Piper J-3 Cub for the past 60 years. “The airplane entered service with the club in June 1963,” President Matthew Bises told us last year (see Aircraft Spotlight November 2022).

The club is based at Grove Field (1W1) just east of Vancouver, WA and was founded in the fall of 1962.  A few months later it acquired the Cub and has been flying it ever since. Locally they are known simply as the “Cub Club.”


A few years ago, the club went through a major transition.  Matthew termed it “a generational shift,” as it modernized operations, evaluated its cost structure and updated the bylaws. Today, Camas Washougal charges $30 an hour, Tach time dry.

The members also had some tough decisions to make about the airplane. The Cub had 11,000 hours and needed a significant amount of work. They discussed selling the plane and buying another J-3. Instead, the decision was made to keep the plane and make the necessary investments because of the plane’s legacy with the Camas Washougal Flying Club.

They worked closely with the Vintage Flying Service, which specializes in vintage aircraft restoration.  A new wing was put on, the landing gear was overhauled, and a new carburetor and primer system were installed. T he plane is flying like it is new again, and the club hopes to continue flying the plane well past its 100th birthday in 2038.



Athol-Orange Aero Club


Orange Municipal Airport (KORE)

Athol, MA



Year formed



1941 Taylorcraft BL-65 ($50/hr)

1946 Aeronca Champ ($50/hr)

1961 Cessna 150A ($65/hr)

1972 Cessna 172L ($90/hr)

Rates are Hobbs time, wet.

Joining fee

$3,000 initiation fee

Monthly dues

$25 per month


Approximately 45




Camas Washougal Flying Club


Grove Field (1W1)

Camas, WA






[email protected]

Year formed

September 1962


1938 Piper J-3 ($30/hr)

Rates are Tach time, dry.

Joining fee

$2,500 Share buy in ($500 is refundable upon leaving in good standing)

Monthly dues

$55 per month





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