Elkins Pilots Club
In May 1962, eleven Elkins area residents gambled $100 each, formed and chartered the club, and bought their first airplane, a Piper J-3. The club has been in operation ever since. It is the oldest club of its kind in West Virginia.
 
Those who gambled their money, and to whom the success of the club in large part must be given, were K.G. Schmertzler, Eddie Pennington, Clido Cataluffi, Dick Benson, Wendell Cramer, Harry Duggan, Carl Weese, Bill Gadd, Leon Judy, and Dorsey Frey. Over time, each recouped his investment – either through money as it become available or through the use f the airplane for flight instruction time.
The club was an overnight success. Twenty-seven students soloed during that first 12 months of operation. Each of them, as is still the custom today, submitted to the custom of having the back of their shirt cut off. In other words, “they lost their shirt.” The donor’s name and date of first solo is then recorded on the shirt tail and pinned to the club house wall as testimony to his or her accomplishment. 
  
Of the soloists, all but Dicki Benson received their instruction from Perry Dillion the club’s first certified flight instructor. Benson was trained by his father Richard Benson. Two women, Mrs. K.F. (Pat) Schertzler nd Mrs. Junita (Buzz) Teter, also received their solo wings that year. By the end of the first year Dillion had over 100 students.
Dillion received his training and license from Hornes Flying School in Cleveland, Ohio in 1955. He was in Merrigold, Miss., attending crop-dusting school when he received word that the club was operational. He finished crop-dusting school but then returned to Elkins to teach fling rather than pursue a crop-dusting career. Perry continued as the club’s only instructor until he was hired by Lake Central Airlines on April 13, 1964. He started with them flying CD-3s and went on to become a captain flying a Boeing 767s for US Air Airlines. His career took him from flying the little two seated Cub to the Boeing that seats 210 people and weighs 358,000 pounds at take off. He retired from US Air in 1994.
Other instructors over the years were A.K. (Slim) Roberts, who followed Dillon, Don Judy, Vernon Bender, Dave Talbott, Wayne Sheets, Chuck Stivers and most recently Elkins Aviation’s Mark Reynolds and Mark Fields.
 
There were two aircraft at the Elkins-Randolph County Airport when the club was founded. One was owned by Dillion and John Coberly. The other was owned by Ed Swartz of Parsons. Dillion said his and Coberly’s airplane was a Cessna 170 with the call sign of N9992A (currently owned by Roger Quinn of Windsor NY).  Swartz’s was a Piper Tri-Pacer, Dillion said. Today, there are 28 business and pleasure aircraft hangared at KEKN. One of the planes is the little Cub, now proudly owned by Dillion, that was used to start the pilots club.
 
The club launched aviation careers for some. For others, it provided the training they use yet today in their business. Many say they learned to fly just to “slip the surly bonds of earth.” Wendell Cramer, who was the clubs first president, still flies his own business aircraft. Numerous other who learned to fly in the club own and operate their own private and/or business aircraft.
 
One of the more interesting events in the club’s history involves a Canadian game protector. On Sept 4, 1962 Geraud Barbe arrived in Elkins by plane with Dick Benson. Barbe’s duty assignment was in Kipewa, Quebec where he met Benson who had been on a hunting trip. When Benson was ready to come home Barbe wanted to come along; “just for the ride.” By the time they arrived in Elkins, Barbe was so captivated by flying he decided to take some lessons during his three day visit. “Each club member pitched in to do what he could do” Dillion said. Three days later, with eight flight hours, three nights of feverish ground school, his newly acquired flight physical and student license, Barbe completed his first solo flight just minutes before climbing aboard a Lake Central Airlines flight on his journey home – minus shirt tail; of course. Dillons said, “To this day he holds the record for accomplishing so much and soling in such a short period a time.” Barbe went on to complete his training in his native Canada and is now retired from the Canadian Game Commission.
 
The club, like all organizations, has seen many changes, members say. When the club started gasoline was 20 Cents a gallon (today it’s closer to $5.00). Flight time cost $6/hr for the Cub and $10/hr for the Cessna 172 (a 1968 model bought in 1970 and still flying today). The Cessna was used for the more advanced training. Dillion charged $4/hr for his instruction and $50 for the ground school; which included all materials. The club still owns that original Cessna and has recently added a 1979 Piper Archer II. They cost $70 and $75 per hour, respectively, and instructor rates are generally between $30 and $40 an hour. Today ground school can be done as a home study course or Elkins Aviation offers a class room course for those working toward their private pilot’s license today.
 
Over the years the club has served the community in ways other than just teaching its members the skills of flying. One of the more important benefits to the community is the availability of qualified pilots  and aircraft to airlift sick or injured people to other hospital facilities for medical care that may be beyond that available at our local hospital. Commercial aviation medical services provide airlift service to and from Elkins at time when the weather is favorable. But when the weather is below the visibility and ceiling limits of that service, the pilots and owners of aircraft based at Elkins stand ready to airlift anyone requiring emergency medical treatment beyond what is available here to wherever it can be provided. The club and its members have also been involved in several charitable fund raising events. The community also benefits from the airport itself, without which the club could not exist. One of the first considerations to be taken into account by businesses when looking for new, or start-up locations, is whether or not that community has a useable airport facility. Elkins-Randolph County Airport has two runways that can accommodate a variety of aircraft including corporate jets. Aviation fuel and services are also available.
 
The pilot’s club now has more than 30 active members. Kay Harper of Green Bank and her husband Tom recently made local aviation history by being the first husband and wife club members to receive a pilots license on the same day. Kay received her private pilot certificate and Tom received his instrument pilot rating. Both were issued their certificate after successful flight check rides by Don Judy, who is a FAA designated pilot examiner.
 
For more information on the Elkins Pilots Club email our Memberships Officer.