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Give them wings and they will soar

Greenspring’s aero club shares love of flight

Created date

November 22nd, 2011
Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return. Leonardo da Vinci Never has this statement rung more true than for an enthusiastic group of former military pilots and crewmen at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va. Each is a member of the community s popular aero club, whose membership includes anyone with a love of aviation and space. In the beginning, our club was heavily made up of those who flew in World War II, says Ed Thurman, a former Army Air Corps crewman and 11-year member of the Greenspring community. As time went on, others who had not flown in World War II began joining the group and sharing their experiences, Ed says. Most were pilots, but over time that has changed. Our club is now a favorite of residents with no aeronautical background as well as those with service in the nation s military air forces.

Defending America

Meeting on the third Wednesday of each month, the aero club centers on a specific topic or personal experience. During the club s early days, they made an effort to discuss their personal flying experiences. Billy Mac McLeod, a member of the club for the last eight years, shared stories from his 30-year career in the Air Force, which included flying missions in the Pacific during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. Flying is the only thing I ever wanted to do, he says. After my tours in Vietnam, I was assigned to air training command. I considered myself lucky. In that position, I could continue to fly while having fun teaching the young guys. Most of my peers at that time were assigned to a desk. Instead, I logged 7,000 hours in the air. I tell everyone that joining the Air Force was the best decision I ever made, says Elizabeth Libby Haynes who joined the Cadet Nurse Corps in 1944. It was almost a calling to join, she says.

Expanding scope

As the aero club grew in popularity, other non-wartime pilots and crew joined, sharing their stories. John Fitz Fitzpatrick, who graduated from flying school shortly after the end of World War II, says, I was sent to Germany and served as an Air Force experimental test pilot and checked out over 60 different types of aircraft. I then spent nine years as a test pilot with General Dynamics, logging in over 10,000 hours in the air.

Expanding outward

The quest for knowledge led the aero club to begin addressing other topics of interest in the field of aerodynamics and space. Rick Hansen, Greenspring s resident astronomer, spoke about the unparalleled achievements of the Hubbell telescope. Charles Charlie Beam, spoke about the 40 years he spent with the Federal Aviation Administration making aviation safer. Bob Jenkins, the group s current leader and former vice president of U.S. Airways, also began looking outside of Greenspring to find leaders in various fields who would be willing to speak to the members. We ve been very fortunate in the caliber of the speakers we ve hosted, says Bob. Since 2010, the group has hosted a Top Gun Navy instructor, an Air Force One pilot, and a Marine Corps helicopter pilot. Lt. Col. Alan Gropman has also presented on the history of the Tuskegee Airmen, as well as Linda Musser Shiner, editor of The Smithsonian s Air & Space magazine.

Growing membership

I continue to be amazed by the stories that so many of our members share, says Elizabeth Fisher, one of the group s newest members. Like so many of her peers, Elizabeth has her own remarkable story. She piloted her first solo flight in 1941 at the age of 18. Since then she s flown for more than 40 years. I knew since I was very small that I wanted to fly, she says. In fact, I think I drove my parents crazy. When I graduated from high school I didn t want a traditional gift. I wanted flight lessons. Flying is just a part of who I am. Two years ago I moved to Greenspring and was thrilled to find the aero club. I ve spoken to so many wonderful people with amazing stories and made many new friends. Anyone interested in flight should stop by a meeting. They won t regret it!

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