How Clubs Can Be Successful

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how-clubs-successful

Written by Gary Fitch | gmfitch@hotmail.com
Photos courtesy of the STARS club
The STARS story
As seen in the February 2022 issue of Model Aviation.


Members and friends eat under the pavilion while attending the STARS Open House at the end of August 2021.
Members and friends eat under the pavilion while attending the STARS Open House at the end of August 2021.

I have known Model Aviation Executive Editor Jay Smith throughout his career with AMA. Jay is constantly thinking about how we can do things better. In 2022, he plans to provide our members with information about successful clubs and what it takes to be one. Club success means success for model aviation. Jay heard about what is happening at my club, the Southern Tier Aero Radio Society (STARS), and asked me to share my thoughts.
STARS (the former Olean Model Airplane Club) is located in the mostly rural area of southwest New York State. Founded in 1932, it is one of the oldest AMA flying clubs in the US, preceding AMA by four years. Free Flight (FF) was the “thing” nearly 90 years ago, and our members traveled far and wide, seeking competition. 
As did most clubs, STARS changed with technological advances in our hobby. Like most clubs, it found a field and lost it, only to repeat the process several times. In the 1970s, when RC was becoming the discipline of choice, we had several mechanical engineers as members, and they were inventive. They wanted to develop large-scale model aircraft at a time when .60-size, glow-powered aircraft were considered large. They developed the first 1/4-scale aircraft powered by .60 engines with homemade gearboxes to swing larger propellers. Flights took place, but the gear failed. 
There was much trial and error—mostly error—then they converted Roper gas engines, which helped get World War I Bristol Scouts off the ground. The advent of the Quadra engine meant that they finally had sufficient power to fly well, and fly they did, in formation at Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome and elsewhere. The STARS were on magazine covers nationwide, heralding the start of Giant Scale. In August 2005, AMA recognized STARS with the AMA Historic Preservation plaque for the role it played in developing Giant Scale aviation. The club also received AMA’s Award of Excellence and has been recognized annually with the Gold Leader Club designation.

 (L-R) Judy Hazzard, Judy Lander, and Shirley Brierley, wives of STARS members are getting ready to enjoy cotton candy at the STARS’ annual fun-fly that was held in July 2021.
 (L-R) Judy Hazzard, Judy Lander, and Shirley Brierley, wives of STARS members are getting ready to enjoy cotton candy at the STARS’ annual fun-fly that was held in July 2021.

Because they always seemed to be looking for a new home, the club’s early members felt it was critical for the future to own its own field. The members began holding an annual Scale rally in 1977 to earn funding for a flying site, long before most clubs held fun-flys.
In 1991, a club-owned flying site became a reality when STARS purchased 15 acres and established a permanent home. With only 35 members, development of the site and field was a lengthy process. In the last 30 years, the members bulldozed and raked a 1,050-foot grass runway, and in 2013, they installed a 30 x 250-foot Geotextile runway for small aircraft.
The club has had to upgrade the mowing equipment needed to maintain the field. The members built a pavilion and an equipment storage area, drilled a well, installed electricity, and put in a bathroom. The club has a refrigerator and freezer for drinks and ice cream, has built a pilot shelter with electric charging stations, and is now finishing the installation of electrical hookups for campers. 
A permanent home is an important part of having a successful club, but in reality, the club needs to first be people-successful and have like minds to develop a permanent home. 
What makes a club successful? Having the right flying facility is an important piece, but it’s only one piece. I have traveled across the country for AMA and spoken with clubs, and I have seen many successful organizations. I even polled my club members as to what makes STARS successful. The reality here is always the same: having the right people in your organization and understanding that an organization needs goals and growth in order to thrive. So, what does that mean?

1. Good Leadership is a broad term, but I believe it means:
    a.  Leaders who lead by example. They are team builders, not dictators. They look for positive, outgoing people to be the club’s face to the public. These are people who will not only warmly greet spectators but also spend time talking with them about the hobby and the club.
    If interest allows, show them the aircraft and 
control system and talk about the club’s training 
program for beginners. This is one of the most 
    important things a club can do to grow acceptance in the community and its membership.
    b.  Leaders who foster the three Fs: family, fun, and fellowship! Consider family events, such as Take-off And Grow (TAG) gatherings; Scouts day; club meals, and a lot of training and flying.
2. Make every event fun by having competitions, helping each other with aircraft, and, of course, having club members critique flights.
3. Show people that they are valued and really part of the club family.
    a.  Look for leaders who seek the needed knowledge and skillsets from club members for club projects and those who foster a feeling of like-mindedness, where many members want to show up to help out when it is needed. Many hands make for light work.
    b.  Leaders, AMA Leader Members, and AMA Leader Clubs that become involved within the local community can speak with their local government, community, and school leaders about their organization, making them aware of who they are and what they do. AMA has educational STE(A)M programs that can be offered to schools and teachers.
    c.  Leaders, AMA Leader Members, and AMA Leader Clubs can promote their clubs at community events, such as parades, community gatherings, food drives, etc.
    d.  AMA Leader Clubs hold events, such as a community open house, TAG events, Scouts flying days, or traditional fun-flys, and invite the entire community, including government officials.
    e.  Cultivate leaders who look for the next generation of club leadership to nurture and bring them along in the knowledge of how to run a club.
    f.  Encourage leaders who understand that the club and its members need goals to work toward helping build camaraderie that binds a group together and moves the club forward. This could be a new field or building project, or new membership goals to reach, whether it is a fundraiser or a float for a parade. 
4. I have seen and heard of numerous clubs where the leadership hasn’t changed in decades. I know of clubs where this works, but it often leads to stagnation, regression, and negativism. If your club is losing members, take a good look within the leadership of your organization. It is always about the people, and it’s up to each of you to do something about it. I firmly believe that offering a welcoming, helpful atmosphere is key.
5. Leaders who think outside of the box for ways to grow club membership and revenue are important. When you own your own field, revenue is always important because you are responsible for paying all property and school taxes, electric bills, field and building maintenance, mowing equipment purchases and upkeep, etc. These expenses are a constant.

 A busy flightline during the STARS 2021 fun-fly.
 A busy flightline during the STARS 2021 fun-fly.

 The AMA Historic Preservation plaque was presented to STARS at the club’s 2005 Open House. This was only the second time AMA had presented this award. The first was at Torrey Pines in California.
 The AMA Historic Preservation plaque was presented to STARS at the club’s 2005 Open House. This was only the second time AMA had presented this award. The first was at Torrey Pines in California. 

Here is an overhead view of the STARS’ flying field.
Here is an overhead view of the STARS’ flying field.

Taken in the early 1950s at a FF contest, the only member in the photo still alive is Bill Messer, third from the left. His brother, Jim Messer, is sixth from left and is in the AMA Model Aviation Hall of Fame. Fourth from the right is Len Bosworth, one o
Taken in the early 1950s at a FF contest, the only member in the photo still alive is Bill Messer, third from the left. His brother, Jim Messer, is sixth from left and is in the AMA Model Aviation Hall of Fame. Fourth from the right is Len Bosworth, one of the STARS founders.

STARS thought outside of the box when the club included a car show in its fun-fly, which draws paying spectators. In 2020, when COVID struck, many of the other club fields in the region were located at county parks, private property, etc., and were either closed or flying hours were curtailed.
Because STARS owns its own field and has camping and support facilities, the leadership saw this as an opportunity to increase membership. It invited people to come and fly and camp, with AMA membership required, and visitors had to fly with a STARS member. They did! They loved what was offered, together with the new facilities that were built, but most of all, the welcoming members. 
Many of these people joined STARS and all renewed in 2021! The club didn’t require masks, just social distancing, and no cases of COVID-19 occurred. In 15 months, the club’s membership has nearly doubled. STARS has increased its number of annual flying events from three to six. 
Word of mouth has spread, and people throughout the region have come to fly because the club is welcoming, active, and has a great place to fly and camp and features good facilities. This is especially attractive to younger pilots, who often attend with their families. 
STARS events are all about having fun, doing family things, such as having lunches and dinners together with 100 or more people, sharing fellowship, making friends, and—oh yeah—a lot of day and night flying, together with a significant portion of ribbing! Often, some of the women will get together and travel to the region’s many antique shops, etc.
STARS is positively looking at 2022 and is expecting to continue to grow. The club is also considering future projects—one to three years out—that will enhance the STARS’ experience and help grow its income streams. The goal is to make the STARS events and field a safe destination for fliers, providing the beauty of the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains, with some of the amenities of home. As STARS President Matt Kloss said, “If we can dream it, we can do it!”
What it all boils down to is the people, the feeling of family, inclusiveness, and the great times to be had! This is what my clubmates say. The key is people who are friendly, outgoing, helpful, open-minded, and want to be a part of something wonderful that is bigger than themselves. 

A classic car show is held during the club’s annual fun-fly. This brings a lot of attention to the field in the form of extra spectators and potential new members—thinking outside of the box and increasing the club’s exposure. The author started this 3 ye

A classic car show is held during the club’s annual fun-fly. This brings a lot of attention to the field in the form of extra spectators and potential new members—thinking outside of the box and increasing the club’s exposure. The author started this 3 years ago and it is has become part of the club’s tradition and is worth the minimal cost of car show trophies. 

By Gary Fitch | gmfitch@hotmail.com
Photos courtesy of the STARS club

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1 comments

Very interesting club attitude. I have a high school aviation club called, WASA (Waccamaw Association of Space and Aviation). We have been in operation for over 20 years. This is very unusual for a club to last so long and not being a regular club like the Key Club or Lions Club. STARS Club knows the secret to making it so long as we do in WASA. If you want a successful club you have to be nice, talk to the students about your activity and involve the adults. We fly model rockets and RC models, stunt kites and even paper airplanes involving WASA with the community by inviting people to watch our events and participate if they want to. I am very pleased with WASA and how the students have reached out to the community with their aviation interests. We have even participated in the Young Eagles Program provided by Georgetown County Airport in Georgetown, South Carolina. I really appreciate how the STARS Club has helped people of all ages, EAA for sponsoring the Young Eagles Program and the AMA for having a positive attitude for their club members and community. Fly high aviation enthusiasts!

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