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GBSC History

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In 1973, four glider pilots (Chris Bolgen, Jose Segerra, Dezi Hamvas, and Peter Arnet) joined to form the Greater Boston Soaring Council in Pepperell, MA. The Council was a commercial operation that intended to consolidate and support the activities of the Monadnock (FAA), MIT, and other struggling soaring clubs. The Council, led by Chris Bolgen (who started soaring at age 15 in Sweden, 1941) with a Cessna L-19 tow plane, and two Schweizer SGS 2-33's. The aircraft were paid for, in part, by members who signed notes and by Dezi Hamvas who mortgaged his home. Although the Council was a commercial operation for the various soaring clubs, its primary intent was not to serve the general public with commercial rides.

The Greater Boston Soaring Council was not able to fulfill its intended purpose, nor did any ride business develop to help finances. Continued operation of the Council eventually became a financial burden on the members. Furthermore, the incorporation of the Council was becoming unworkable with all the quarterly reports demanded by the state. Thus, after less than one year the members decided to liquidate the Council and reorganize as a club.

During the reorganization, original member Chris Bolgen dropped out. However, the remaining members recruited Joseph Grasso and John Zachistol and formed the Greater Boston Soaring Club (GBSC). Through vigorous recruiting, the club more than doubled its membership during the first year. Membership dues were $200 annually and tows to 2500 feet were only $8. Additional revenues needed by the club were raised from interest paying bonds that new members were urged to buy.

GBSC continued to operate at Pepperell for the next two years (1973-1975). During this time a dispute between the landowner and jump school operator threatened to curtail operations. The club tried to assist financially in resolving the dispute but lost a considerable amount of money in the process. Eventually the landowner went to court over the lease and an order was handed down to close the field to all operations. During the off-season, members searched for a new location to operate and settled on Sterling, MA, for the 1975 season. Members of the old Monadnock Soaring Club joined GBSC and brought their Blanik with them. During the stay at Sterling, the club also obtained a Lark and a SGS 1-26. However, one SGS 2-33 was lost in a non-fatal accident and the 1-26 twice suffered heavy damage.

Sterling was also home to a helicopter operation that eventually became incompatible with glider operations. Thus, GBSC moved to Groton where it operated for a short time in late 1981.

Because of rising rent at Groton, GBSC temporarily moved the club to Plymouth, New Hampshire for the winter of 1981-1982. Finally, GBSC moved back to its original location at Pepperell, MA where it  continued to operate from 1982 to 1998.

After moving to Pepperell, GBSC moved forward with improvements in capital equipment and increases in membership. In 1990, GBSC added an SGS 1-26E to its fleet of two 2-33's, two Pilatus B-4's and the L-19 tow plane. A Blanik L-13 was added in early 1993 when a former member offered to sell it to the Club. Improvements have also been made to the Pepperell airport by GBSC. In 1992 GBSC entered an agreement with the current airport owner to pave the runway in exchange for several years of tie-down fees. During these improvements a new staging area for gliders was leveled but not paved at the southwest end of the runway. Having operated out of two old trailers for many years, GBSC decided to build a clubhouse in 1993. With the help of club volunteers, Arthur Ducharme designed and supervised construction of the building located next to the river.

Also, during 1993, Capt. Eli's Glider Service began operation as a commercial service at Pepperell. Capt. Eli, a.k.a. club member Ritts Howard, reached an agreement with GBSC to do all commercial and introductory rides and also to provide weekday towing for the club. This helped alleviate long waits during busy flight operations. The second tow plane also has helped the club during unscheduled tow plane repair.

Throughout the years GBSC has seen a steady but small increase in membership through recruitment and word of mouth. However, the 1993 and 1994 seasons saw a great influx of new members when the Salem, NH-based commercial soaring operation closed its doors after more than 30 years of operation. Membership jumped from approximately 60 to more than 80 as Salem pilots, looking for a nearby place to fly, joined the club. During 1996, membership had grown to 93.

Membership stayed relatively constant during 1997 with gainers matching losers. Ritts Howard decided to phase out Captain Eli's Flying Service. GBSC purchased his Pawnee PA-25 tow plane and provided tows to him for the remainder of the season. Pepperell airport management insisted that GBSC personnel indemnify them in form of a waiver that was deemed unreasonable. Sufficient members declined and the club moved back to Sterling Airport for the start of the 1998 season.

At this time, the MIT Soaring Association (MITSA), having moved from the Mansfield airport some years before,  was also operating at Sterling.  Having 2 glider clubs at the same airport was sometimes confusing at first. The problem was how to operate two sets of gliders and tow planes from the same runway.  However, compromises were made by both clubs and relatively smooth operations followed. Toward the end of 2001, the MITSA board of directors presented a proposal to the GBSC board - GBSC would accept all MITSA members, equipment, and liabilities, and operate as a single GBSC. This proposal was presented to the GBSC membership in the spring of 2002 and was overwhelmingly approved in a secret ballot vote. This merger added approximately 70 new members to the (then) 105 member GBSC. It also increased the fleet from 8 gliders and 2 tow planes to 12 gliders and 3 towplanes. The (IRS 501(c)(3)) MITSA corporation continues to exist as an educational arm of  GBSC, principally to support the GBSC junior program. Tax deductable donations are gratefully accepted.

Although GBSC has not sponsored a soaring contest since the original Sterling days, it does encourage cross-country soaring and the SSA badge program. Several members are accomplished contest pilots at the regional, national, and world levels and travel around the country flying in various contests.

For many years GBSC has sponsored an annual trip to Franconia, New Hampshire, for some excellent ridge, mountain, and thermal soaring. Usually held on Labor Day weekend, the beautiful mountain scenery of Franconia provided a welcomed break from the flat lands of eastern Massachusetts. Also, trips are made to Springfield VT, where the long runways permit auto tow launches, and Gorham NH where we seek the Mt Washingon wave in the fall. Additionally, on an informal basis, members occasionally take a B-4 to Pennsylvania or other gliderports to experience soaring in different environments.

Although this is just a brief chronological history of the Greater Boston Soaring Club, the real history belongs to the stories told under the trees next to GBSC clubhouse. Come out to the field, take a flight, and talk to the long-time members for the really interesting history.

Check out Walter Lob's Account of early MITSA flying.

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