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Aviator Club Creates Smithsonian Contribution

At the aeronautical club gathering in Springfield's Greenspring Village, Bruce Gilbert remembered a clear day over France as German tracer bullets flew by the cockpit of his airplane.

"In World War II, I was chased over France by four ME 109's. They all made a firing pass at me," said Gilbert, using his hands for two airplanes following each other. "I was flying the B-25, there were tracers all around me."

"This is the way our club meetings go, but you have to use your hands," Gilbert said.

The club got its start five years ago, and now the membership has grown to about 70 Greenspring Village residents. Club member Clem Weissman was the founder and chairman for a while, and now Bob Bjork is chairman. Bjork has been chairman for over two years.

"Generally, they're all former military Air Corps members," Bjork said.

In recent months, club members have converged on a balsa wood model of the Wright Brothers' airplane, in recognition of the 100th anniversary of the first flight at Kitty Hawk, N.C. They're building the model in the hope that it will be displayed at the new Smithsonian Air and Space Museum annex in Chantilly, which is scheduled to open on Dec. 17 — the same day as that first flight 100 years ago. Club meetings boil down to 75 percent conversation, 15 percent club business and 10 percent model building.

The club began working on the model in early April and now has the two wings laid out and the small wing papered, but that's it.

"This is where we are today, we're not on a schedule," Gilbert said. "Our club president is going to contact the Smithsonian."

Although club members are familiar with the story of the Wright Brothers and the airplane, they did learn things as a result of constructing the model. The "wind twist cradle" was one thing they didn't know about. This is the area where one of the brothers lay down during the flight, twisting and leaning to steer.

"They didn't have ailerons," Gilbert said. "I've learned an awful lot about the Wright Brothers."

He still can't figure out why they didn't use wheels, though.

Larry Allen has his first model airplane, still intact from when he built it in 1946 while attending the University of Notre Dame. They all asked if it would still fly, which Allen insisted it would if he had the nerve to go out, attach strings to it, start the engine and go around in a circle while it flew. This was how the old model planes flew.

"It would [fly] if I had enough guts to do it," he said.

Occasionally, speakers come to visit the club, addressing a variety of issues connected to airplanes. That includes a Tuskeegee Airman, various aviators and a woman who jumped out of a plane at the age of 70.

Club members agreed that they flew airplanes, not jumped out of them.

"When I flew a C-141, we used to dump out Army and Marine paratroopers," Gilbert said. "We thought they were crazy for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane."

"I never jumped, and I never ditched an airplane," said Bjork.

Club members tell a lot of stories; some of which are slightly different at various times.

"Lying is just one letter short of flying," said