Sunday, November 25, 2012

Mishawaka Pilots Club continues for 55 years • Mishawaka Pilots Club Airport (3C1), Elkhart, Indiana

South Bend Tribune/JAMES BROSHER / November 25, 2012 
After a flight, Dee Davis cleans a few bugs off the windshield of his plane at Mishawaka Pilots Club Airport. Davis is the club president.

As municipal budget cuts close or curtail activity at small airports around the country, the private general aviation Mishawaka Pilots Club keeps flying from the airport it established 55 years ago on Mishawaka Road in Elkhart County. 

 “Small airports are going away at an alarming rate all over the country,” says Dee Davis, who joined the club in 1993 and has been president for 15 years. “Ours seems to be thriving very well. We’ve made money every year, even though we’re not for profit.”

The club, which has about 70 planes and 165 members who pay dues of $15 per month, settled on the land in 1957 after having to leave three earlier sites.

“They decided they needed to own the property and control the property,” Davis says. The group formed the Airport Realty Corp., which now has 65 shareholders and owns more than 100 acres, including 13 bought recently.

“We own the property, we mow it, we plow the snow, we paint all the buildings,” Davis says. “We have a common interest, but that’s not all we have in common. We have the same ideas of how we like to see things done.

“It’s a very independent group. Almost all my best friends are there at the airport now, even though some of them are in their 90s.”

Members use their hangars for motorcycle storage and workshops as well as planes and visit each other’s space for camaraderie. Every weekend, a group of five to 20 people gather to fly somewhere within 100 miles — a version of the “hundred-dollar hamburger” that pilots use as an excuse for an excursion.

“Over there, that’s my lodge,” Davis says. “That’s our fraternity, I guess.”

In the heyday of the club, in the 1970s, members started Mishawaka Air Activities with donated planes to offer instruction and boost membership. That club now has some 60 members and five planes.

In the wake of 9/11, aviation suffered from flight restrictions and insurers leaving the market, and the economic downturn has exacerbated the problem with fuel and insurance costs and reduced discretionary income.

“It’s a lot harder for people to get started now,” Davis says, who once flew 50 hours per month and now flies about 50 hours each year. He grew up next to Mishawaka Pilots Club and remembers watching planes fly in and out from his backyard.

“I was always fascinated with aviation,” says Davis, who took aviation projects to regional science fairs when he was in high school and took his first flying lessons while at Tri-State (now Trine University) in Angola.

That was in the days when five hours of work at the airport could buy an hour’s lessons.

Roy Marchant, of Michiana Air Activities, who started flying when his children graduated from high school, says costs and time commitments prevent many middle-aged people from participating.

“Being a flight instructor, I’m getting some guys that were in high school and are going into aviation,” he says. “You go from that young age group to the people who get themselves financially stable where they can afford to do it.

“Flight training and flight time, unless you’re making a pretty good income, it’s discretionary. It comes down to family — do you have time?”

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