Knox Aero Klub – The Early Years

 In the early to mid 1950s, the Army began to modernize its aircraft fleet.  Retired were the “stick and paper” aircraft descended from the ‘Grasshopper’ of World War II, replaced by the all-metal Cessna L-19.   Also, the light personnel transports were being replaced by the DeHavilland L-20 Beaver and Beechcraft L-23 Twin Bonanza.  Because the retired aircraft had carried normal civilian certification, they could receive civil licenses (“N-numbers”) and be available to civil pilots.  In a move to provide a recreational activity to Army personnel, and to increase the number of pilots in the United States, the Army released these aircraft to Army-sponsored flying clubs.

 Organized by active duty enthusiasts, these clubs quickly sprang up on Army installations across the country.  Initially an “instrumentality of the Federal Government”, the clubs were not required to carry any liability insurance, nor were the pilots held responsible for accidental damage to the aircraft.

 The Knox Aero Klub was formed in 1957-58 and received seven former Army aircraft, as shown in the upper part of Table 1.

N-Number

Army Type

Civilian Type

4237A

L-18C

Piper PA-19

4056A

L-21A

Piper PA-18

4241A

L-21A

Piper PA-18

 

LC-126A

Cessna 195

4232A

L-17B

Ryan Navion

4233A

L-17A

North American Navion

4234A

L-17C

North American Navion

4478M

 

Piper PA-12

9276B

 

Cessna 175

8184T

 

Cessna 175

2225H

 

Ercoupe

Table 1. Knox Aero Klub Aircraft 

Although most of these aircraft had seen prior service (Navions served a light personnel transports in the Korean War), the L-18C was received “new in the box” from Letterkenny Army Depot and assembled for the first time at Fort Knox.  The LC-126 was in the club only a short time before a refueling fire made it unairworthy.  After being scavenged for parts by the Aberdeen Proving Ground club, it finished its life as a target on the Armor Board’s McFarland-Oliver Range near the Salt River bridge.

 Club dues were $5 per month, and aircraft rental rates, including gas, were $3 per hour for the Pipers and $7.50 per hour for the Navions.  The Pipers were used as training aircraft, and the Navions were used for cross-country travel.  Although equipped for flight under instrument conditions, pilots of the Navions were prohibited from flying in instrument conditions or cross country at night.

 The former Army aircraft imposed some proficiency requirements on pilots: the Pipers were tailwheel aircraft and required more skill in landing than the more modern tricycle gear trainers; the Navions had retractable landing gear and variable pitch propellers (now called “complex aircraft”).  To ease the former requirement, the club went out on bid for a “two place, all metal, side-by-side seating, tricycle gear trainer”.  This bid was aimed at the ubiquitous Cessna 150.  However, it was also met by the Ercoupe, a pre-war design incorporating a low wing and twin rudders.  Although a good aircraft and adequate trainer, it was “different” than what many student pilots had previously experienced.

 The club desired a simpler cross-country plane than the Navion for family trips.  The Cessna 172 was the preferred airplane for that mission, but again, on a bid basis, the club found a better buy from a broker in Greeley, Colorado.  Thus came the first Cessna 175, the same airframe as a 172, but with a geared (higher RPM) version of the same engine.  Cessna 175s are fine performing aircraft, but the engine requires more TLC due to its continued high RPM use.  It is a good owner-flown plane, but is subject to a shorter overhaul life when flown in a club setting.  Nonetheless, the 175 was well enough accepted that the club bought a second 175 from the same broker.

 The club was initially housed in a World War II temporary building (the former Link Trainer building) near the present pre-war brick hangar.  As a result of lobbying and a good club reputation, the Armor Center supported the building of a permanent club house.  The concrete block building, Bldg 5252, was constructed by an Engineer battalion as a training project.  It is now used by the 8/229 Aviation Battalion.  Although it could not shelter an entire airplane, the rollup garage door made it possible to pull the nose of a plane in for engine work as needed.

 The club typically had a membership of about 120; perhaps 20-25 were students in either the Armor School or the Training Center and the rest were permanent party.  Army regulations authorized the use of club aircraft for official travel, and the cross-country planes, for trips of 400 or 500 miles (and under VFR conditions), could often do better than the airline schedules.  Pilots were reimbursed for rental fees, so they were able to add hours to their log books at Government expense, as well as to support club usage.

 Some of the members had their own planes tied down with the Klub planes.  Frank, who was the on-site mechanic for the Klub and for the Maintenace Board's L-20, owned a Navion (still on the FAA registry) identical to the L-17s.  Walter, who was a control tower operator at Godman, had a Mooney Mite.  Robert had a Beechcraft D17S ‘Staggerwing’, a collector’s item even then.  He said he would rent it to Klub members for $10 an hour, but I never knew anyone to take him up on the offer.  James brought back, in pieces, a French trainer that had been given to the US Government as part of the payback for war materiel given to France in World War II.  It was never assembled up until 1965.

 One of the high points of this period came when the members discovered five new Piper Cherokees parked on line.  Thinking that the Klub had found a new benefactor, we examined them and found that each had a decal reading “Pussy Galore’s Flying Circus”.  These were the planes to support the filming of the James Bond classic "Goldfinger” and were only temporarily on Godman Field.  It is said that a female pilot came up on the frequency and announced "Godman Tower, this is Pussy Galore with a flight of five".

 By 1965, the Navions had been retired, and the Pipers were scheduled to follow.  Today, of the planes in Table 1, only the two Cessna 175s remain on the FAA register.  As the Vietnam War cranked up, active duty planes were shipped out of Fort Knox, and the Knox Aero Klub, with seven aircraft, outnumbered the Army aircraft on Godman Field.  

 Although there were many Army flying clubs in the 1960s, the number has dwindled to a handful now, and the Knox Aero Klub passed away in the 1990s.

 The above article was submitted to Inside the Turret in the fall of 2007.  To the best of the author's knowledge, it has not been published.

The author welcomes comments from readers, and will add info and pictures as they become available.  His email is milt@longgreylinefarm.com.

I wish to thank Mike Huntsinger for these pictures from the mid-60s

     

   

Navion 4233A circa 1960

 

Some of the instructors were George Dillard, Pryce Roark, Bruce Lipscomb, George Klemstine.  Checkout of a Private Pilot in the cross country aircraft did not require a CFI, but rather a "check pilot" designated from among the members.  Navion checkout, for those with no retractable time, was 10 hours with the check pilot.

I received a nice email from Domingo Benvenuti (Ben), 1965-1967, naming a few more instructors:  Denis Lord, Robert Wood, David Miehlke, Ronnie Epes, Pilkinton, Glen Taylor.  He would like to hear from members of that period.

Both of the Cessna 175s are still on the FAA Registry, N8184T in Alaska and N9276B In Louisville, with the same owner since 1980.  In 1965, 76B was white with blue trim.  If anyone can shed light on the 1980 paint job, or when 76B left the Aero Klub, please email data to Milt@longgreylinefarm.com and I will add the data here.

           

                     N9276B in flight 1964                                                                          Bowman Field, 1980

                                                                 

                                                              Bowman Field, 2002  Note "Cessna Skylark" on the door

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