Fox Flying Club History

Introduction

The year was 1956.  Eisenhower was president and later that year would win a second term by defeating Adlai Stevenson, former governor of Illinois, a second time.  Nikita Kruschev was First Secretary of the Soviet Union and the Cold War was in full swing. The USSR crushed revolts in Poland and Hungary.

The US population was 169 million.  The Bears lost the NFL Championship to the Giants 47-7.  The Chevrolet Corvette was in its fourth year of production and a new one cost $2900.  Ford’s Thunderbird was in its second year. 

“Big” movies of the year included “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” and “Around the World in Eighty Days”.

Aviation in 1956

Aviation was in a time of transition.  Most private airplanes had conventional gear and few had radios.  Even with radios, the navigation tools were transitioning from the radio ranges (A and N) to VHF Omniranges and DME.  Midway and O’Hare had ILSs. There were VORs  located at Bradford, Chicago Heights, Midway, Joliet, Naperville, Polo and Pontiac.  Only Midway, O’Hare and Meigs had towers.  Radar coverage was spotty until after the collision of a TWA Super Constellation and United DC-7 over the Grand Canyon helped expedite radar for enroute traffic control.

Cessna introduced their tricycle gear 172 with a base price of around $13,000.

Chicago Area

Midway and O’Hare had ILSs. There were VORs located at Bradford, Chicago Heights, Midway, Joliet, Naperville, Polo and Pontiac. The Chicago area included the world’s busiest airport, Midway, and, in the western suburbs many local fields including Aurora Municipal, Elgin, Elmhurst, Hinsdale, Lombard, York Township, and Woodale-Moody.

Chicago even had a seaplane base at Navy Pier (above) and another 18 mi SSE of the City on the Cal Sag Channel.  Speaking of Chicago, Richard J. Daley had been mayor of the city for one year – wonder if he used a speedboat to “tear up” the seaplane landing area?  

What had to be one of the more interesting instrument approaches was the RNG (radio range) approach to the Joliet Airport.

 You'd begin by over-flying the JOT radio range (257 kilocycles), called “High Cone.” Then you would turn to track outbound on the southwest range leg on a course of 248o.  After a couple of minutes and a procedure turn (to 203 then back on 23o) you’d be inbound on a course of 68o following the As and Ns.  When you get to the “Low Cone” (the cone of silence right over the station) you would then make a right turn to about 126o and “dead reckon” the remaining 3.2 nm to the runway. 

  DuPage Airport had two paved runways: NE-SW and NW-SE as well as east-west and north-south turf runways.  See the photo at  According to the Illinois Airport Directory for 1956 there were lights on runways and taxiways, Unicom 122.8, fuel and meals were available (probably not in the same container).

Air Explorer Post 335

A few years before, an intrepid band of young men had much better things to do than Standing on the Corner (Watchin’ All the Girls Go By)" by the Four Lads (#1 record week of 6/16/56). They were

Air Explorer Scouts and had their eyes on the sky – perhaps inspired by Flying Saucer Parts I and II (#1 record - week of 6/25/56).

The Boy Scouts had Explorer programs for members older than 14.  There were Sea and Air Explorer Posts for groups with those specific interests.  Air Explorer Post 335 had branches in Geneva, Batavia, St, Charles, Elburn and Glen Ellyn.  It had been formed in 1954 and the various groups had aviation-related meetings and projects.  “Red” Knowles, an American (AA) captain based at Midway, who lived in Geneva, arranged tours of planes and facilities at MDW. Bob Heuer from St Charles was a copilot for AA and flight instructor.  The scouts and leaders did lots of hangar flying at his house.  Bob had been a crop duster pilot in Tampico, IL.  Another AA employee was Tom Raleigh, a flight engineer. The St Charles group had meetings Monday nights at the Community Center in St Charles and began a ground school, so the Geneva group joined them.

Early in 1956 Bill Cherwin (later flew for United and in retirement is flight leader of Lima Lima flight team (www.limalima.com), one of the Air Scouts, and others decided to form a flying club so they could put into practice what they were learning in the ground school.  Ten of them pooled $80 each into a pot of $800, enough to buy a used plane.  Since there weren’t enough scouts to fill the ten membership, several adults, including “Red” Knowles and Norm Armbrust, bought shares. 

N3682E (back then, E was Easy not Echo) was a1947 Aeronca Champ 7AC – navy blue with a cream-colored top.  The engine was a 65hp Continental, wood prop, instruments included airspeed, oil press, oil temp, altimeter, fuel gauge, compass, 14 gal of fuel. There was no electrical system, radio or starter so the pilot would tie down the wings and tail while the passenger handled the brakes (don’t ask about single pilot starting).

Aircraft usage was billed at $3.50/tach hour. The club received free tiedowns from airport due to the nature of the club - Scouts learning to fly. The first rate increase was to $3.60 to make it easier to calculate rates by the minute. Instructors were not members but gave free dual instruction time to the Explorers. All of the initial members were student pilots.

Incorporation

The Fox Flying Club was incorporated on November 21, 1956 with documents signed by the following incorporators:

  • Norm Armbrust of Geneva (also the Registered Agent), ran a hobby shop in Geneva 
  • Ken McClure of St. Charles, a machinist at Dickey Mfg Co.  Ken was the first member to become licensed. 
  • Eric Gordtney of Batavia 
  • Fred Keicher of St Charles 
  • The first Board of Directors included Armbrust, Gordtney, McClure as well as: 
  • Robert L Heuer of St. Charles and 
  • Thomas Raleigh of St. Charles. 
  • Ted Stumm was the Air Scout Senior Crew Leader and Bill Cherwin the Deputy Crew Leader 
  • Bill Morrison (son of Wally) 
  • Bob Case worked with Eric Gordtrney

Early Adventures

There was a house with some trees at the intersection of North Av and Powis Rd.  From the trees to the threshold of the SE runway there was about 800’ – an ideal place to practice short/soft field landings in the grass.  Obviously this required good piloting skills and a low approach.  One day Jack Powers hit a tree on one of these approaches, damaging the gear but landing without injury.  The members cleaned up the plane, sanded out corrosion and put the plane back in operation – under the supervision of an A& I. Roy Hazelrigg, a mechanic for the EJ&E Ry. welded the tubing.

Then as now, new pilots were always looking for practice and adventure.  Norm Armbrust and Bill Cherwin were new pilots and landed at Elgin Airport.  Elgin had two grass runways and one made with WWII surplus steel interlocking matting.  As they were preparing to depart Elgin from one of the grass runways, another plane was inbound on final.  Since that plane had the right-of-way, our heroes decided to pull off the runway.  Unfortunately, the grass off the runway was a couple feet high and as they pulled into the grass, they performed a major threshing operation.  After they took off, Norm noticed that the plane didn’t seem to perform the same as before.  Turns out the “mowing” eroded the prop so badly that it had to be replaced.  The good news is that Ron Williams’ girl friend’s father flew in the Navy with a guy named Sensenich.  They managed to get a new $180 74-46 round tip metal prop to replace the wood prop for half price.  Unfortunately, some time later, Pete Neal made an “aggressive” wheel landing which dinged the tips so the prop ended up as a square tip 72” prop.

In the fall of 1960 the plane broke the tie-down straps and flipped over in a storm.  This resulted in the search for a replacement plane.

Second Plane

On December 22, 1960 Bill Cherwin and Pete Swanson flew to Ottawa to pick up their next plane.

N2152E . (now owned by Walter Plassche of Rochester, NY) or (2512E? (George N) now owned by Paul Miller of Plainfield, IL), 7AC cream with red stripe.  It had similar instruments but it also had a small venturi with a turn and bank indicator

George Northam, with a new job and lots of cash decided to join the club in 1961.Bill Cherwin was back from the U of I and was his first instructor. On 6-24-62 Bill and George did a short dual. The 1800’ runway had a downhill pitch and George landed a bit long – poor brakes and a downhill slope made for an exciting landing. It must not have been too scary because they then flew from Roselle to Bradford (an airport and airways beacon location) to Polo and back.

Adios DuPage

In 1962 the Club moved to Roselle (now Schaumburg) since the tower had opened at DPA with communications on either 120.9 megacycles or 342 kilocycles (Heinrich Hertz was still dead and hadn’t been resurrected as frequencies, yet).   Radios were now required and the airplane was NORDO (no radio).

Back to DPA

In early ’63, Chester Good became president and, along with some others felt that the fabric on the plane was in bad shape so it was sold and a 1957 Champion (formerly Aeronca) 7FC tri-gear was purchased, N7257B with 95hp.  It had a Narco Superhomer VHF radio with crank tuner and about 5 transmit frequencies, of course, it wouldn’t work on the numerous LF stations still in operation, like 342 kc.  The plane also had a venturi, which provided vacuum for the artificial horizon, turn and bank and directional gyro. As luck would have it, at the first annual, the fabric was declared to be inadequate.  The fabric was replaced at the Champion factory in Osceola, WI.  It just took a couple of months. 

In ’66 the engine needed overhaul and it was taken to Crystal Lake.  The prognosis wasn’t good (bad bearing and case needing welding).

More Planes

In August, 1967 N3539J, a 1965 Cessna 150 was purchased from DuPage Aviation for about $3,500, where it had been a trainer. (now owned by Bob Weiss of Lombard, IL) The membership limit was increased to accommodate the new resource.

N8580U, the club’s first 172, was purchased in February, ’69.  It was a ’65 model 172F and is now owned by Charles Sigmund, Walworth, WI.

In 1967 George Northam “scratched the itch” of ownership with a ’47 Bonanza, in partnership with Keith Larsen.  He leased it back to the club for several years.  George’s pride and joy had a polished aluminum finish to rival the most modern fighter jets. Unfortunately, one day on 1975 the member pilot was a bit hasty in raising the flaps after landing and raised the gear instead.  “Beechcraft!  Can you spell ‘squat switch?’” Fortunately the damage to the plane wasn’t much more than to the pilot‘s ego.  However, it was mutually agreed that maybe the leaseback wasn’t the greatest idea.

Polishing and sticky fingerprints finally got to George and he decided to get a paint job. Armed with a great design he flew to a low priced guy in an adjacent state where the painter seemed to be high on the fumes (or something else).  A couple of weeks later he had a brand new “25 foot” paint job.  It looked good from 25’ away.  That shop is still in business, although it’s rumored that they’ve broadened their product line and now you can get a 15, 25 or 35 foot paint job.

Thanks to Bill Cherwin and George Northam for details of the early years

- Bill Everson, April 2004