by Ed Leineweber
I guess I wasn’t paying attention, but somehow I missed until just recently the emergence of the Sport Aviation Association (SAA) on the grassroots aviation scene. Maybe you’ve missed it too, and don’t know that this “little guy, true grassroots” effort was originally formed by Paul H. Poberezny many years ago. Here’s a brief introduction to the SAA, its early beginnings, present status and future mission.
The history of the Sport Aviation Association is itself fascinating. According to records on file with Wisconsin state government, SAA was formed as a non-profit corporation by Paul on November 5, 1970, only 17 years into EAA’s now 60-year existence. Apparently Paul saw a problem with the image in the word “experimental,” and considered promoting the broader concept of “sport” aviation. However, the idea and the new outfit languished for many years, while Paul was occupied making the Experimental Aircraft Association into the world-class aviation organization it has since become.
Paul’s vision did start to come into focus, however, in 1996, when the late Jimmy Leeward – air racer, former EAA board member and founder of Leeward Air Ranch, Ocala, Fla. – took an interest and made a financial contribution to get things rolling. Paul’s daughter, Bonnie, and son-in-law Chuck Parnall, were also a big help in those days with organizational details. SAA held its first convention in the year 2000 at the Frasca Fly-in at Frasca Field, near Urbana, Illinois, facilitated by Paul’s and Audrey’s long-standing friendship with Rudy and Lucille Frasca.
By 2005, SAA had a mailing list of 2200 interested folks, including about 700 active members, and put out a magazine called To Fly. But for various reasons, Paul decided to abandon this effort, ceased publication of the magazine, and disband the organization that same year. (The funds in the SAA treasury were donated to help establish the Founder’s Wing at EAA headquarters.)
Although many encouraged Paul to keep SAA going, and several even approached him to take over the reins, Paul took no action until 2012, when a guy named Ed Fisher wrote Paul urging him to reactivate the organization. Shortly thereafter, Paul told Ed, “Now is the time, and you are the man.”
It would be hard to reject the mantle when anointed by Paul Poberezny himself to take up the mission of SAA, and Ed did not shrink from this responsibility. Instead he embraced it, along with a core of SAA volunteers determined to make this organization work the second time around. Together, they have accomplished much in barely more than a year.
Starting with the old 2005 roster, approximately 2600 questionnaires were sent out to prospective members of the revived organization. Today, SAA boasts of almost 800 members, and shows a modest but steady growth trend.
Ed Fisher serves as president. Inducted into the EAA Homebuilders Hall of Fame in 2011, Ed is a design contest winner, two-time Oshkosh Grand Champion Lindy Award winner, and builder of 18 aircraft from scratch. He admits to having more fun building than flying, and counts 30,000 hours of builder time. He is a certificated A&P mechanic.
In his younger days, Ed was a pylon air racer, aerobatic pilot, and very active for decades in the Formula One and Formula Vee/Supervee air racing scenes as a volunteer, builder and pilot. Now, at 59, Ed primarily makes his living doing custom fabrication and restorations, and as a consultant to individual aircraft homebuilders and companies in the homebuilding industry.
Mostly these days, however, Ed’s passion is the Sport Aviation Association, for which he volunteers hundreds of hours, trying to get it back up and running, as Paul envisioned when he entrusted the organization to his care.
But SAA is an all-volunteer organization, and Ed is only one of a dedicated core of true believers putting their hearts and souls into this effort. The SAA website, www.sportaviationassociation.org, lists the current board members, officers and regional representatives, including Butch Harvey, vice president, and Val Fisher, secretary/treasurer. Jeff Lange co-edits To Fly magazine with Ed.
At the beginning, the organization was totally donation-based, and faced real challenges when it came to budget time. Recently, the board decided to go to a dues-based format, effective in January. But at $28 per year, membership in SAA should still be within the reach of all who are interested. For all you One-Percenters out there, additional donations at renewal time will be most welcome!
“So what’s the point?,” you might be wondering. “Why create another aviation organization, adding yet again to the alphabet soup that comprises the GA community?” Good question, and one that each must address as we consider joining forces in this latest effort. I can only tell you why I decided to sign up as soon as I learned of the existence of the Sport Aviation Association.
First, it wasn’t to be part of an organization dedicated to competing with EAA, of which I am a long-standing, proud and dedicated member. Judging from the statements on the SAA website, Ed and the others there look at it the same way. It says, “Before you read further, it is important that you know and understand that we are NOT in competition with EAA. We want to complement EAA’s efforts and help retain the heritage of the amateur aircraft builder. Our mission is not political – it is simply to encourage the fun, fellowship, and camaraderie that is so special and unique to aviation.” This put me at ease on that point.
Next, the SAA vision statement resonated with me, dedicated as I am to trying to promote affordable grassroots, recreational flying. I won’t quote the entire lengthy statement, but encourage you to go to the site and read it for yourself. It is enough to say here that it can be summarized in the statement from the opening paragraph: The Vision and Purpose of the Sport Aviation Association is to promote fellowship, learning, and safety for the grassroots ‘little guy’ of recreational aviation. Amen to that!
Just how the SAA is going to realize its vision remains to be seen, especially as it attempts to build its strength and evolve from roots as an all-volunteer, donation-funded, organization. But one possible avenue to pursue is what brought me in contact with Ed Fisher in the first place. I was referred to him by Robert Taylor, founder of the Antique Airplane Association and the Air Power Museum, based at Antique Airfield, near Blakesburg, Iowa.
As you might know, and as I have previously written, Bob Taylor has created an offshoot of the AAA known as the Legacy Log of Homebuilt Aircraft. Bob’s insight is to recognize the restoration of old homebuilt aircraft as a potential source of safe, affordable flying machines. Ed Fisher shares this belief as well, and likes to refer to antique homebuilts as a “new category of aircraft.”
Our hunch is that there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of partially-completed or once-flying aircraft out there in barns, hangars, garages and basements that can be finished or restored to a condition for safe flight at affordable prices. We intend to pursue this concept vigorously in the future in various ways, and see what comes of it.
Meanwhile, you can help, and enjoy the ride at the same time, by joining the Sport Aviation Association. And while you’re at it, join the Legacy Log of Homebuilt Aircraft as well. Let’s see what we can accomplish! Paul would be pleased.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ed Leineweber is an aviation, litigation and business attorney practicing in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a Certified Instrument Flight Instructor (CFII) and holds a Light Sport Repairman Maintenance Certificate. A retired Wisconsin Circuit Court Judge, Leineweber once operated two fixed based operations and managed the airports where they were located.