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 you’ve been around for a while. 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 WWII (see the October 2021 Club Spotlight). The Reading Aero Club in Pennsylvania is close second to Brockton, having formed in 1932 (see the November 2022 Club Spotlight).
We only know what you tell us! If you would like to be included in the “competition” to find the oldest club in each state (and by extension, the nation), please follow the instructions found in this month’s News from HQ. At the end of this article, is a list of clubs, per state, which have already contacted us.
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. As Archie Bunker sang with his wife Edith, “Those were the days…”
Over the decades many things have changed, but some have not. “We’re still at 10 members and we all own a share,” Jerry Fletcher said. “The regulations were set up years ago and everyone abides by them.”
Jerry knows the club better than most. He’s 85 now 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.
Jerry 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 license in 1938, the year Jerry was born, and one of the first things he did was fly a 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 Brockton’s first plane. 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 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 & Automobile Museum (WAAAM) in Hood River, Oregon (which also has a flying club that you can read about in the March 2017 Club Spotlight).
“This is actually Mel Wood’s logbook,” current Treasurer Ash Salter said. “It’s got dates from 1933 when they were flying a Jacobs [Spartan], then Piper Cubs in the ‘40s.”
The club continued operating during WWII 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.
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, according to a 2011 article about his service. His family founded Taunton Municipal Airport – King Field (KTAN), where the club has been based since the 1940s or 1950s. His sister Ora King Stevens was one of the first women pilots in Massachusetts and ran the airport for years.
In 1944, the club bought an Aeronca Chief for $1,700 and in 1961 they bought a Cessna 170B. For the past 40 years, the club has been flying a 1979 Cessna 172N purchased in 1984, just before Jerry 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, which you can read about in this month’s Aircraft Spotlight.
Over the years, Brockton has continually made improvements to its 172. Decades ago, the club upgraded to a 180-hp engine, making “it a true four-passenger plane,” Jerry said. This past January, it was time for the club to put a new 180-hp engine in the aircraft again, making it the third time the engine has been replaced.
They also just put in two Garmin GI 275’s in place of the vacuum system to replace the attitude indicator and serve as a moving map and HSI. The panel also has a Garmin 430W and a GTX 327 ADS-B transponder. “We’ve steadily made upgrades to the plane as we’ve gone along,” Ash said. “It gives us a lot more value in the aircraft. Some of us are IFR rated, and it gives us a lot more redundancy and capability.”
So, what are the benefits of having the same aircraft for 40 years? “It outlasts most of the members,” Ash said.
But not all members. When Jerry joined Brockton 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 Mel Woods, who was flying the Spartan in 1933, was in the club for more than 50 years. That made him quite a notable member. Judge Hale was perhaps a bit more prominent. He 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. It’s too bad we don’t have more Congressional representatives like that today.
For the club’s 30th anniversary it held a reunion and made a wood plaque with a carved Curtiss Junior on top with the names of all the members below. There are 132 names on the plaque and 69 of them have stars on them. “Gold stars indicate guys who passed away while they were active members of the club,” Ash said. Congressman Keith has a star next to his name. He died in 2005, 44 years after joining the club.
The same 1961 article about the club’s 30th anniversary mentioned one early club member who went on to become a Vice President of KLM Airlines, while another named Howard Brooks left to join Flying Tigers Airline. Jerry also 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.,” Jerry said.
Not all the members have had such a pedigree, but what they all shared was a camaraderie and love of aviation. Jerry credits those traits for the club’s staying power. “We’ve always had good members,” he said. “I think it’s compatibility of the pilots.”
Ash cited the limited membership of 10 people as one of the reasons for Brockton’s long-term success, along with “a very personal interview process. We look for the best fit. We have a very cooperative group of gentlemen that just want to get along and fly. The members are like a family.”
So naturally, just as some families have their Sunday supper, the Brockton Flying Club has a long-standing tradition of breaking bread together. When Jerry joined the club, meetings were hosted by different members at their homes—just like when his dad first joined the club.
“It used to always be at our houses,” he said. “We entertained at home and our wives would help put something on. We’d have a little libation and then whatever the meal was. That was a fun thing because you’d get the spouses involved and everyone enjoyed it.”
Today, the club still rotates its meetings with different members hosting, but its more likely to be at a restaurant to avoid inconveniencing younger members who have small children at home. The club also hosts a Christmas party, a 4th of July party, and in June they do a big cookout at the hangar and wash the airplane.
Years ago, club member Frank Saccone would host a party at his summer home in Plymouth. “He put on a hell of a spread,” Jerry remembered. “It was just to get together with a bunch of pilots, with club members and others. It was a friendly, fun meeting swapping stories.”
Over the years the club has updated the bylaws, but not a lot—just enough to keep the club current and modern. “They’re pretty simple,” Jerry said. “We didn’t have to put it all in writing, but we tightened up some things, so everyone understood their responsibilities. We’ve tweaked them here and there.”
The club leadership is similarly low key. There are regular elections, but generally people hold positions as long as they want. With a small club there is always something for everybody to do. Decisions are made together by consensus. During the monthly meetings, they’ll discuss any maintenance or aircraft improvements, as well as upcoming trips members may want to make.
“It’s a very collegial kind of environment. Even though we could move ahead with a simple majority, we don’t,” Ash said. “Everybody talks it out until we get a unanimous decision so nobody is ever put in a bind of any kind. It’s based on mutual respect and a love of flying.”
For more than 90 years, the Brockton Flying Club has been a model of consistency and compatibility. They’ve been able to keep the club limited to 10 members and created a family, where “everyone gets along, we all work together, and we make sure the plane is kept in tip-top condition,” Jerry Fletcher said.
Although he grounded himself after breaking his leg last year, Jerry 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,” Jerry said.
Oldest Flying Clubs by State
As part of our efforts in researching this article and flying clubs in general, members from across the country have shared when their clubs were started. Below is an unscientific and certainly not complete list of some clubs who have been active for more than 50 years. If you would like to have your club included, please see this month’s News from HQ for instructions—please follow the rules and just one entry per club, please!
Arizona Flying Ten Flying Club 1970
California Concord Flying Club 1939
Valley Pilot Flying Club 1958
Connecticut Flying 20 1940
Florida Alman Flying Club 1945
Illinois Stick & Rudder 1948
International Flying Club 1975
Indiana Flying Engineers, Inc. 1973
Maryland The Octopus Flying Club 1962
Massachusetts Brockton Flying Club 1931
Athol-Orange Aero Club 1937
New Hampshire Lakes Region Flying Club 1956
New Jersey Jersey Aero Club 1938
New York Upper 15 1948
Cambridge Valley Flying Club 1963
GACE Flying Club 1969
Ohio Flying Neutrons 1952
The Wright Flyers 1955
Oklahoma Oklahoma Airmen Flying Club 1953
Pennsylvania Reading Aero Club 1932
Lehigh Valley Flying Club 1956
South Carolina Clemson University Flying Club 1927* (Hiatus in WWII)
Washington Camas Washougal Flying Club 1962
Brockton Flying Club
Taunton Municipal Airport – King Field (KTAN)
Treasurer Ash Salter (508) 823-0039 or [email protected]
1979 Cessna 172N ($100/hr.)
Rates are Tach time, wet
Approximately $18,000 per share (negotiated between buyer and seller)
$115 per month
10 (capped at 10)