The Best of Times

Ronald Fritz, Vintage Aircraft Association Director Emeritus
EAA# 9448
VAA# 337

I joined EAA during the summer of 1960, while I was serving in the United States Navy. It was really the first time in my life I had the extra money to do so. Even though I’d known about the Experimental Aircraft Association for years, I never had the money to join. Growing up on a rural Michigan farm taught me many things and I developed a traditional work ethic. Unfortunately, there was not much of a monetary income but we were able to eke out enough money to survive with a little left over to enable us to enjoy an occasional moment for entertainment, usually a movie. I actually made my first contact with EAA when I sent a letter to EAA headquarters asking about a company in Milwaukee that was offering aircraft plans, etc. I received a very nice letter back from Paul Poberezny with his statement that I should ignore the offers in the flyer. Along with that letter, he sent me the December 1956 issue of The Experimenter. I still have that issue and I treasure it very much. My first encounter with EAA was from an issue of Flying Magazine, which carried an article on the newly founded Experimental Aircraft Association along with many photos of homebuilt planes and plans that were available at that time. These were just dream articles for me.


My first encounter with airplanes close up was in 1945 when my dad took the family to the Muskegon County Airport in Muskegon, MI. I don’t know why he did this but it set the stage for my interest in airplanes. I’m sure I had seen planes fly over the farm, but the war was on and they were very rarely seen. Occasionally a fighter plane or bomber flew over and my brother and I jumped for joy when that occurred. At the Muskegon County airport that day there was a black biplane doing touch and goes and I can still see that sight.


My first airplane ride came in the early 1950’s when I had a ride in an Aeronca Sedan that was providing tours of farms and new farming practices. I got horribly airsick. My next ride came at the Muskegon airport with “Sinnie Sinclair”, an early American flyer. That was in a Piper Clipper.


After that I had to satisfy myself with watching planes from the ground with a pair of binoculars. When a junior in high school, I had saved enough money to take flying lessons. My first lesson was in a Piper J3. I got horribly airsick after a half hour flight. I spent the next hour washing off the plane. I hoped I would never see another airplane but after a week, I couldn’t wait to get back to the airport. This next lesson ended the same way but I didn’t have to clean the plane afterward. That was a total of one hour of flight time. The next hour was more successful: I didn’t get sick. But, that was also the end of my cash resources. There would be no more flying lessons until 1962 when I had returned home from the Navy. I soloed an Aeronca Champion at the Greenville, MI airport. Managed my first and last groundloop on my first solo.

My aviation experience started to develop after that. I had enrolled at Western Michigan University in an aviation program and had planned to obtain a mechanics license and stay in aviation. That didn’t work out and I had to drop out as there were a lot of students in the program and I was unable to get the classes I needed. During this time, in 1962, I joined EAA Chapter 145 in Grand Rapids, MI. This was really the beginning of my journey into aviation. I met many local pilots, some who were building or restoring airplanes. Things seemed to center around the Wayland, MI airport. There was an instructor there and I decided to continue lessons at Wayland. One of the significant people I met at Wayland was Willard “Willie” Benedict. We developed a long friendship. My real interests in aviation were the antique airplanes and Willie had just finished restoration of a Rearwin Sportster. Another Wayland denizen was just finishing a Porterfield 35-70. I could only dream of owning an antique. During this time my brother and a friend of his had purchased a Ryan PT-22. They had hoped to use in for aerobatic instruction but that never developed. On a whim, I inquired of the two if they would sell the Ryan. They agreed and I purchased the plane, which needed restoration. Willie and I completed the restoration and I began to fly it. I had accumulated about twelve hours of time in Aeronca Champions. Willie had convinced me I could fly this plane and he taught me to fly it. Since Willie wasn’t an instructor, we flew the airplane to Greenville where Willie checked out the local instructor, who then checked me out and signed my logbook. I flew the Ryan a quite a bit but couldn’t log most of the time as I was flying with another licensed pilot. One of the most memorable trips was to the Antique Airplane Association national fly-in in Ottumwa, IA, where I won the best Ryan award. The plane attended the 1965 and 1966 fly-ins at Rockford, IL. In 1965, after the Rockford fly-in, the plane was wrecked after an inflight engine failure. It was rebuilt and attended the 1966 Rockford fly-in. During the 1965 convention I had the pleasure of meeting Jack and Golda Cox, a friendship that lasted until Jack’s death. This meeting was to lead me in the right direction and the eventual formation of the Antique/Classic Division. One of my other involvements at Chapter 145 was leading the chapter in the construction and completion of a Stewart Headwind. That project started in 1962 and first flew in 1970. It attended the Oshkosh Fly-in in 1971.

My first airplane- Ryan PT-22

My real interests in aviation were the antique airplanes. 

1933 Waco UIC

Vultee BT-13A

The Aeronca 7AC bought during the BT-13 restoration

The Ryan was sold in late 1966 and I then bought a 1933 Waco UIC. Since I had not yet obtained my private pilot’s license, it was imperative I do so. I was able to borrow a Piper Colt and obtained my ticket in that plane. That was in May of 1967. I flew the Waco to the next three fly-ins at Rockford, IL and the next three at Oshkosh, WI. I also flew it to most every fly-in and dawn patrol in Michigan and Indiana. I met most of the antique plane owners and pilots and it was great fun to see and fly with them. It was old home week at Ottumwa and Rockford and Oshkosh. I was fortunate to win the Best Silver Age Biplane award at Oshkosh in 1972.


For some reason, I decided to sell the Waco in 1972 and purchased a Vultee BT-13 with two friends. We restored the Vultee in 1975 and flew it to Oshkosh that year and the following year, 1976. Unfortunately, during the restoration period, gas prices tripled and, the Vultee, having a fuel capacity of 120 gallons of gas and having a P & W. 450 HP engine was really too much for us so it was sold. In the meantime I had purchased an Aeronca Champion to fly during the Vultee restoration. That was a ball to fly. That lead to a Piper Tri-Pacer and then to a 1958 Mooney M20A. My last plane purchase was a 1944 Taylorcraft L2M.


As mentioned before, I had met Jack and Golda Cox and developed an ongoing friendship and communications. It had been fun to meet all the antiquers at Rockford and Oshkosh and the numbers of that class of airplanes was growing every year. During one of my phone calls to Jack in 1971, he mentioned there was going to be a meeting of antique plane pilots at Hales Corners, WI, with the intention of developing an organization within EAA to deal with antique and classic airplanes. He invited me to attend the meeting that was to be held on November 5th and 6th of 1971. Most of the antiquers that attended were people I had met many times before so it was like old home week. We finished the organizational meeting on Saturday afternoon and we were invited to Paul Poberezny’s basement to celebrate the founding. I still have the autographed issue of The Experimenter that he gave me celebrating the event. I consider that date as the founding date of, what is now, the Vintage Aircraft Association.


Getting back to my EAA involvement, I was a member of Chapter 145 initially and subsequently joined West Michigan Chapter 211 and then Kalamazoo Chapter 221. During that time, I worked with all three chapters developing flying activities and fly-ins that invited all Michigan EAA chapters to attend. Prior to that time, I represented Chapter 145 and later, Chapter 211 at meetings of the Michigan Council of EAA Chapters and then the Michigan Experimental Aircraft Association Coordinating Commission. These organizations were developed to encourage inter-chapter activities. The first organization ended when the chairman of a State fly-in at Lansing, MI absconded with all the money, leaving the organization with a huge financial responsibility. The second organization was developed to hold revenue-gathering activities to pay off the obligations. This was done to everyone’s relief.

1954 Piper Tri-Pacer

1958 Mooney M20A

Last airplane- Taylorcraft L2M

With the formation of the new Antique-Classic Division, members were encouraged to form chapters. I did this here in Michigan with the formation of Antique/Classic Chapter 8. We were quite active at Oshkosh and held several events within the state.


All my activities weren’t within the Antique/Classic though. I also became interested in aerobatics and was part of the formulation of an International Aerobatics Club. I was asked to take an office and served as secretary/treasurer for the duration of the chapter. In addition, I took the IAC judging tests and qualified as an aerobatic judge.


I was also a member of the Warbirds Association while owning and flying the Vultee BT-13.


Regarding Michigan chapter involvement, I served as president and held other offices in Chapter 145. The same with Chapter 211. Served as newsletter editor and printer for those chapters as well as Peach Ridge Airforce Chapter 704 in Sparta, MI. I was president of Chapter 704 several times and am still a member of that chapter.

Of all my aviation activities, the Antique/Classic Division, now Vintage Aircraft Association has been my most revered accomplishments. I started off as one of the original directors. I was relieved of my position in 1974 and brought back into the organization by A/C president J. R. Nielander in 1978. I served as advisor, then director and finally secretary of the division. While an officer in the A/C Division I served as chairman of the History of Flight Pageant and then chairman of the Antique and Classic forums at Oshkosh.


I resigned my position in 1988. During those years the division was very successful and saw a huge increase in membership. I was brought back into the division in the late 90’s as Director Emeritus.

Of all my aviation activities, the Antique/Classic Division, now Vintage Aircraft Association has been my most revered accomplishments.

EAA Antique Classic division logos

In 1979 several friends and I built an airport near Kent City, Michigan and I built a new home on, what became the Wilderness Airport Development. I pushed for state and FAA licensing of the airport and became the first airport manager, a position that I still hold. In addition, I’ve lead in the development of two different airport associations to insure equal treatment of all pilots on the fields. On local issues, I’ve held offices in the local township government and still enjoy a close relationship with the current government.


I attended all of the EAA conventions from 1963 through 2014. During that time I crossed paths with all the prominent EAA members and it was nice to be on a first name basis with most of them. All in all, my experiences are priceless and the memories of events and people could not have been improved on. It was truly the best of times.