In the spring of 2017, a group of people were on a rock climbing and mountain biking trip in California. While hanging around the campsite, one person, who had just gotten out of the Navy, said he wanted a career where he could spend a lot of time traveling and climbing the world. Another suggested he become a pilot.
When they returned to their home in Utah, the former sailor decided he did want to fly for a living. His brother-in-law, who made the suggestion, wasn't a pilot, but that was a bucket-list item made decades before that he still hadn't ticked. His wife also expressed interest, so the three looked at flight schools but soon realized learning to fly would be more affordable if they owned their own airplane. Since they knew nothing about aircraft ownership, they eventually applied to join a flying club, even though it was an hour and 20 minute drive from their home.
Unfortunately, the club didn't want more student pilots and rejected their application. The sailor decided to attend a university aviation program while the brother-in-law wondered if it would be possible to start a flying club. That summer, he spent three months and hundreds of hours researching how to start one. He reached out to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and reviewed the website of every club he could find in the United States. When he found a club that impressed him, he reached out and asked questions. One of them was the Utah club that rejected their membership but turned out to be supportive and helpful.
That fall, he placed an ad on KSL looking for potential members for the Sopwith Camel Flying Club. He chose the name because while researching clubs, he found a number named after famous airplanes. Every time, he read about their history and learned something. He thought the Sopwith Camel was a beautiful plane, and while growing up, he had always been a fan of the comic strip Peanuts. In it, Snoopy would pretend to fly a Sopwith Camel in duels against the Red Baron in World War I. Perhaps with such a unique name, interested people might look it up and learn about aviation history as well.
After hearing from about a dozen people who responded to the KSL ad, he planned an organizational meeting at the Glendale library in Salt Lake City. He unwittingly scheduled the meeting during the LDS General Conference, and only three other people showed up.
However, one person who couldn't attend, a pilot with Delta Airlines, knew about a Cessna 182 in Utah that had just gone on sale. A short time later, they flew the plane and made a deal to buy it pending a pre-buy inspection. Unfortunately, the inspection didn't go well.
Several new potential members came to see the plane at the inspection, though, and once they knew the purchase was a no-go, started searching online for another plane to buy. Their goal was to have an aircraft by the end of 2017.
They eventually found a Cessna 172 in Texas, and three of them - the Delta captain, the wanna-be pilot who got the ball rolling, and a 28-year Air Force veteran who also was not a pilot - went in together to buy it. They completed the sale two days after Christmas.
They wrote bylaws, legally established the club, and elected a board. In February, 2018, the club began with seven people - the three co-founders and four others. The board consisted of five people, and three of them weren't even pilots.
Still, having a Delta pilot on the team helped establish credibility, and they soon had 15 members and started looking for a second plane. In June, it found a Cessna 150, which was also in Texas, and spent the next few months filling up the membership roster once again.
In November, it found its third plane, a Cessna 182, in Ogden. This time, the club announced on Facebook and in a KSL ad that it was holding an open house. It expected about a dozen people to attend, but that many showed up in the first 15 minutes. Dozens came, and three days later, the club filled up yet again.
With people waiting to join, the club immediately started looking for its fourth plane. The club mechanic recommended a Grumman Tiger that belonged to a local doctor. The club bought the plane in January, 2019. The owner joined the club and became the plane's first crew chief. The club had been on the waiting list for a shade hanger at South Valley, and ironically, our number came up as we were negotiating the purchase. So we kept the plane there.
This time, the club didn't even hold an open house. It just announced it had more memberships available, and amazingly, the club filled up in three days yet again.
The board decided to wait to buy our fifth plane so we could focus on building our club culture. We held monthly social activities, held our first movie night, and organized our first overnight trip.
By the time we finally purchased our fifth aircraft, in early 2021, 28 people were on the waiting list to join the club. After announcing on Facebook that we had purchased another plane, we received five more applications to join the club in a week.
That leads us to today. The club has regular social activities, a vibrant membership, and will consider buying a sixth plane in late 2021 or 2022.
However, we don't plan to grow indefinitely. We plan to remain small enough that our members can continue to know one another and so we don't have to hire a professional staff and drastically raise rates in order to pay salaries.
The former sailor who asked the question at the campsite became a private pilot but never did fly professionally. His brother-in-law, who got the ball rolling, liked flying so much he switched careers and become a professional pilot. The Air Force veteran and co-founder became an instrument-rated pilot and now has more than 600 hours of flight time. The Delta pilot and co-founder still flies for the airline where he is a Captain and check airman.
None of the three people who showed up to that first meeting at the library ever joined the club. Fortunately, a whole bunch of awesome people did!
- December, 2017 - The club buys its first aircraft, a Cessna 172, two days after
- February, 2018 - We get airborne at KSLC with seven members.
- June, 2018 - We purchase our second plane, a Cessna 150.
- June, 2018 - We hold our first picnic at a park in Salt Lake City.
- July, 2018 - The club's first monthly social / meetup takes place at the
Handlebar in Salt Lake City.
- October, 2018 - We have our first Aircraft Cleaning Party at the South Valley
- November, 2018 - The club buys its first high-performance plane, a Cessna
182. After holding an open house, the club runs out of 15 new memberships in
- January, 2019 - A Grumman Tiger joins the family at U42. This time, the club
doesn't hold another open house but fills up in three days once again.
- January, 2019 - Because of a government shutdown, air traffic controllers
haven't been paid in nearly a month. Club members pitch in $350 to buy ATC
at KSLC breakfast show how much we appreciate them.
- February, 2019 - We host our first movie night by watching Flying the
Feathered Edge at the Civil Air Patrol headquarters at KSLC.
- October, 2019 - Nine people go on our first club trip - a weekend adventure to Monument Valley, in Southern Utah that includes epic scenery over Bryce
National Park and Lake Powell.
- All of 2020 - The Coronavirus shuts down in-person meetings and social
activities, so we continue to cautiously fly and use Zoom for meetings.
- January 2021 - Aircraft #5 - a Piper Cherokee - joins the family.
- March 2021 - We become one of the first clubs in the country to launch
WINGS for Clubs - a continuing education and proficiency program for pilots.
- June, 2021 - We kick off our first Pinch-Hitter Program to teach family
members what to do if the member they fly with becomes incapacitated while flying.
Our first club picnic in June, 2018
Standing from left to right...
Troy - the club secretary
Alicia - our second active CFI
Jubal - our second club maintenance officer
Mike - our first active CFI
Jon - our 11th fantastic member
Scott - our first maintenance officer
Scott - the Air-Force retiree, co-founder, and our first and current vice president
Eric - our 17th terrific member
Jeff - our first crew chief for the Cessna 172
Quinn - our ninth awesome member
Kneeling left to right...
Paul - the co-founder who placed the ad and the club president
Lou - the Delta captain, co-founder, and club treasurer
Our Spring, 2021 General Membership meeting - held in person and online.