by Lou Drendel
The BFC (Businessmen’s
Flying Club) was founded by Vern Finzer at Naper Aero Club Field. Naper Aero was started in 1956 by Vern, who was a UAL Captain,
Harold White, who was owner and publisher of The Naperville Sun, and Al Beidelman, who was Naperville Building Commissioner.
Aero Drive was the only street and there were not more than a dozen homes when I started flying there in 1964. There was no
community hangar, and the runway was semi-improved. The BFC had a Cub, a Cessna 120, and 15 members. I was checked out in
the Cub by Mel Finzer and in the 120 by Vern. I got my Private License the following summer in the 120.
The 1960s were a very dynamic period for General Aviation. The Vietnam War created a demand
for military pilots, and the airlines were beginning an extended era of growth. Demand for pilots was at a post-World War
II high. You could literally get hired by a major airline if you had a College Degree and a Private License. United Airlines
would give you a contract, then when you got your Commercial License, they would send you to Denver for training and an Instrument
Ticket. ( An Instrument Rating was not required for Commercial at that time.) Then, as now, the airline pilot vocation was
much sought after and valued. The airline hiring boom of the 60s created great demand for basic training venues. Though I
wasn’t seriously considering an airline job at that time, I was flying more than any other member. (Over 500 hours in
less than 3 years.) The result of that was that I was drafted to become the President of the BFC.
The BFC was an outgrowth of the Air Explorer Scouts. Vern had trained many of our members as
Scouts. His son Mel and good friend Ken Anderson were charter members who went on to become UAL Captains. They were in the
vanguard of many more airline aspirants who flocked to the BFC for their basic qualifications in the mid 60s. Mel and Ken
were also instructors, as was Doug White, Harold’s brother and a Naper Aero resident.
the BFC started getting more members than our two airplanes could handle, we acquired a 1956 172, then another Cub. These
were followed by a brand-new Citabria. Within the space of a year, we had grown from two airplanes with 15 members, to five
airplanes and 50 members!
Some of this growth was painful. One
of our members demolished a Cub when he landed on runway 27 on a late summer evening. With the sun in his eyes, he drifted
off the runway and into a fence post. He was not injured, and we replaced that Cub with another, for which we paid the grand
sum of $1,200! Unfortunately, in January 1966, that same member was flying the 172 and was involved in a mid-air over Rockton
in which 5 people lost their lives. Our new Citabria sustained major damage when a student flared 15 feet in the air. One
of our better trainees had just received his Private in the summer of 66, and was giving his brother his first airplane ride
in the 120. Over the South Side of Chicago, the engine failed. He did a masterful job of dead-sticking it into a cemetery
without damage to himself or the airplane.
Vern and others removed
the wings and towed it back to Naperville. We decided to do a major restoration. Club members stripped the paint from the
fuselage and we took the wings to Chuck Stodola for recovering. Chuck was a UAL Engineer who lived on the strip and did most
of our maintenance. (Chuck’s hangar was the first structure on Naper Aero. Tom and Roberta Priz are the current residents.)
When we had the fuselage stripped, we towed it into town, to Paul Oestry’s body shop. Paul did a beautiful job of painting
and striping the fuselage. Chuck recovered the wings and installed a newly-overhauled Continental 85 hp engine. We had a beauty…….for
a few months. Late that fall, one of our Private trainees was practicing maneuvers over the harvested cornfields South of
Oswego, when the throttle linkage broke. The engine immediately went to idle, and he was looking for a spot to land. There
were plenty of landing spots, since it had been a warm and dry fall. Unfortunately, he was a little too hot and, as he approached
the end of the field he had chosen, he realized that he was not going to get the airplane on the ground before running into
some power lines. What to do? Over or under? He opted for “over” and ran out of airspeed at the apex of his zoom,
stalling and crashing into the field. He was not seriously injured, but our 120 was a total loss. We replaced it with a 140.
This was not much of a change, except the 140 was a little heavier, had flaps, and wasn’t as fast.
The Citabria was acquired in October 1965. Citabria is “Airbatic” backwards, and
I thought it would give us a chance to acquire some additional skills. John Luebke, another Naper Aero Resident, was designated
as a dealer for Citabria. Citabria was an extension of the Champ design, and was being built in Osceola, Wisconsin. John and
I took delivery of our brand-new Citabria on November 4, 1965. My checkout was the flight back from Osceola. We departed Osceola
about 3PM after waiting for the company test pilot to complete the delivery test flight. This was a very basic airplane, with
no radio and no interior lights. Fortunately, it was a CAVU day and night and we navigated by picking out the beacon from
Rockford and then the lights of Chicago. John landed the airplane from the rear while I held a cigarette lighter under the
airspeed indicator and leaned to one side.
My logbook shows that I got my first aerobatic instruction
on 20 November 1965. The Citabria was not a great aerobatic airplane. This first model was powered by a 100 hp Continental
engine, which made most vertical maneuvers problematic. But it could do rolls, and the controls were the lightest of any that
I had experienced. It was a fun airplane! I got 55 hours in the Citabria, and used it to pass my Commercial test ride before
we traded it in on a new Cessna 150. (It turned out that I was the only member interested in aerobatics.)
The 172 mid-air occurred the following January. We replaced the 172 with a 1956 Skylane, which
we purchased at Freeman Field in Seymour, Indiana. This was a somewhat weary 182, but it served us well. One of our new members
celebrated his Private ticket by taking the 182 on a coast-to-coast flight, adding almost 100 hours to his logbook. I used
this airplane to haul my Skydiving buddies to altitude in the summer of 66. I also discovered formation flying in the summer
of 1966. We had two J-3s, and we tried our hand at formation. Well, we called in “formation”, though it was more
like “same way, same day” formation.
One of our “incidents”
involved a trainee on his first solo cross country. He had landed at Sycamore in one of our J-3s and was taxiing to the airport
office when he ran into one of the gas pumps. The wood prop was shattered. He called me and I told him to tie it down and
we would see about getting it back to Naper the next day. The following day we removed the metal prop from our other Cub,
loaded it into the 182 and flew up to Sycamore. After installing the alternate prop and tracking it to make sure the crankshaft
in the Cub wasn’t bent, I propped it and sent our student back to Naperville with instructions to meet me at Stodola’s
hangar. Naturally, I beat him back to Naper and waited for him at Stodola’s .
finally landed (to the south) and taxied to the gas pumps, where he shut down. When he didn’t show at Chuck’s
hangar, I called the clubhouse. (The new hangar was built in the winter of 65-66.) He said he would be right down. He finally
did show……on foot, with a badly cut hand. He had propped the Cub without benefit of tie-down, and the Cub had
promptly rolled smartly into the metal locker by the pumps. (Some of you may remember this old locker with the long gash on
the top front corner.) Chalk up another prop, and this time the crank was bent! Our intrepid student was not discouraged though
and went on to a career with UAL.
The BFC survived this period of “in
and out” members, and eventually stabilized with an all Cessna fleet of 150s, 172s, and a newer Skylane. I got out of
the club in 1970 and did not fly on a regular basis again until the Mentor Flyers were formed in 1974.