The History of the Bald Eagle Flying Club
It began as a simple idea shared between four pilots in the mid-nineteen fifties; why not stop renting airplanes and buy one of our own? The airplane in question, a 1940's era Aeronca Champ, was purchased shortly after the four men, Fred Rozzi, Sam Mangino, Andy Mavrakos, and Enrico Peruzzi, saved the $400 needed for the downpayment on the plane and obtained a $400 mortgage from Casco Bank to cover the remaining cost.
Humble beginnings for a club that has lasted more than half a century.
From what we know, the founding members flew that little plane as often as they could manage. None of them or those who joined after were wealthy men, but the costs of flying then were not what they are today, and neither were the rules. Original member Fred Rozzi once flew the little Champ under the old Million Dollar Bridge, a feat for which he was verbally reprimanded by the FAA, being asked politely to "not do it again". There were other incidents as well: The Aeronca Champ, being without an electric starter, was once crashed into another plane on the ramp outside Maine Aviation, the pilot having forgotten to set the parking break while hand-proping it. Harry B. "The Colonel" Winger was instrumental in helping the club in those early days. A former B-17 pilot and member of the 100th Bomber Group, Harry was Director of Flight Operations for Maine Aviation and did what he could to see that the club members had what they needed to park and fly the Champ as often as possible.
From its initial four members and single two-seat fabric covered airplane the club grew, and by the late nineteen sixties had sold the Aeronca Champ and upgraded to a four-seat 1963 Cessna 172 Skyhawk, tail numberN3935S - a plane that was eventually sold but is still flying today in the skies over Texas. That plane is also believed to have been involved in search-and-rescue operations with club member Bob Philbrook at the controls. Mr. Philbrook was a member of the Civil Air Patrol and a sufferer of Multiple Sclerosis, but once wedged into the cockpit was as competent as any pilot the club has ever included in its ranks.
The growth and change continued, and by the mid nineteen seventies the club had over thirty members, including several women pilots, and two airplanes, a 1970 Cessna 172 Skyhawk,N7813G, and a Cessna 150 Commuter, remembered by Mark Chapman as tail number 'four-four-juliet'. The Skyhawk and the Commuter were staples for the club in the 1970's, and those planes and the club's size and prosperity prompted a newspaper article to be written about the club, which has become a partial source for the information found on this page. As far as we (and the FAA) know, N7813G is still flying today, albeit under different ownership, gracing the skies of Hawaii for Maui Flyers, Inc. Current usage rates at that time were $7 an hour for N7813G, and $4.50 an hour for the Cessna 150, both of those being "dry" rates - fuel was paid for by the members as they flew. Membership cost was $10 a month.
The Eighties and Nineties
The history of the club becomes a bit vague at this point. We don't know much of the activities of the members during the late seventies and eighties, but we do know of the planes that the club owned during that time. After N7813G and 44J came another Cessan 172, this a 1975 model, tail number N6564H. This plane sadly suffered the worst accident in the history of the club - a fatal flight with a club member at the controls - the bigger tragedy of course being the loss of the three souls on board the aircraft.
Despite the accident, the club continued on, and eventually bought two airplanes to replace N6564H, a 1976 Cessna 172N, tail number N73827, and a 1973 Cessna 182P, tail number N52698. The club owned and flew these two planes during the late nineties and into the new century, a time period that includes another minor tragedy - a fire at then club treasurer Peter Holden's house that destroyed many of the records for the club.
The Day the Club Almost Dissolved
The middle of the first decade of the new century was a hard time for the club. Membership began to dwindle, the economic downturn and the events of September the 11th, 2001 combining to make general aviation a luxury that most of the members could no longer afford. In 2002, N52698 was sold to former member Tom Marshall, the club membership no longer being able to justify the expense of owning two airplanes. 2008 saw the ranks shrink to just six members, former club President Luke Bassett, former club Vice President Jay Crosby, former Treasurer Dave Hempstead, longest tenured member and former board member Mark Chapman, and two others. There were serious talks during those times of selling the one remaining plane, N73827, and dissolving the club, the six members having to bear more financial burden than they could reasonably justify.
The Current Era
Thankfully the club endured and in 2009 welcomed two new members, former Maintenance Officer and Club President Jim Stenberg and former Maintenance Officer Jason Barnes, bringing the number of members to eight and tabling the decision to sell N73827 for the time being. By 2012 the membership had grown to twelve, and the club was part of another newspaper article by the Portland Press Herald. Events in late 2013 would further swell the club's ranks, as Maine Aviation decided to close their Pilot Training program effective January 1st, 2014. Many of those current students finished their training as members of the club, continuing to work with CFI Chip Lawrence, also formerly of Maine Aviation. In the winter of 2013, N73827 was indeed sold, but only because it was time to replace it. March of that same year saw the club purchase its current Cessna 172, an 'N' model from 1979 with an upgraded powerplant, tail number N4818D. An upturn in the economy saw the membership continue to grow, and in early 2015 a second airplane was again needed to keep pace with the flying habits of the current members. N239AM, a 2004 Alarus CH2000 trainer, was purchased and was soon racking up hours with many of the club's student pilots flying it weekly. 2016 saw the club's ranks swell past 50 members, and February of 2017 saw the club grow their fleet to three planes with the purchase of a 1985 Cessna 172P model, tail number N99265.
In late 2018, the club purchased a two-seat light sport airplane, a Vans RV-12, tail number N4647R, to replace the Alarus, which had been involved in an accident earlier that year. The following year, the club sold N99265 due largely to a fall in membership. Finally, the club sold N4647R late in 2020 and replaced it several months later with a Piper Cherokee PA-28-140, tail number N8181N.
What the Future May Hold
Times have certainly changed since the club was founded. Thanks to increased airport security, members now need special security badges to operate at their main home at the Portland International Jetport. Northeast Aviation, formerly Northeast Airmotive, is the current FBO working with the club for hangar and tie-down space and small maintenance items, and for the past few years the club has even afforded to be able to hangar the planes during the winter, erasing the back-breaking chore of sweeping snow and chipping ice off of the wings and fuselage after each snowfall. Snow cleanup was an ongoing winter event that had been with the club since its inception and one that former member and Operations Office Dwight Woodman came to dread. So what's next for this little flying club of ours?
At this point in time the club is as alive and active, and we hope the history continues for years to come. 2021 marks the 65th year for the club, and who's to say another 65 aren't in the making!