History of the Northern California Soaring Association
By Toodie Perl-Marshall
The spring of 1947, saw a group of soaring enthusiasts gather at the beautiful grass strip known as Warm Springs Airport, to decide on how to form a glider club. Fellows from Ames Research and Lockheed who loved to fly, felt by pooling their money to purchase a glider, they could start a club. The Ames group formed first, then as more people started coming out, decided another overall club would work well. Since only a hand full of pilots were flying in all of Northern California, logically, they felt that they represented Northern California, thus the name Northern California Soaring Association was chosen.
Warm Springs Airport was located at the southern end of Mission Ridge, easy towing and landing when soaring on the long ridge. While at Warm Springs, the club held two soaring contests. Some of the gliders attending the first one were; two slick LK’s (Lister-Kaufmann), a swell Pratt Reid (side by side), the Ames club TG-3, Les Arnold’s TG-3 Redwing, and Ted Nelson’s Hummingbird.
Ralph & Betty Salisbury, the operators of the field, lived above the large hanger, were very friendly folks who loved the glider activity. However, Ralph always wanted to fly for an airline, he went to work flying for United Airlines. Derrill “Gabby” Hansen who worked over at Ames Research became the airport manager while Ralph was away.
1948 Ted Nelson bought the Bowlus Aircraft Company, moved everything to San Leandro, where Ted lived, including Harry Perl and family. Harry had worked for Hawley at the time. Ted changed the name to Nelson Aircraft Company. He and Harry set about designing a two-place tandem motor glider with retractable engine and steerable nose wheel. The first Hummingbird flew from the Hayward Airport, then over to Warm Springs Airport. Ted loved flying in waves and flew a lot in the early side by side Hummingbird. Both Ted and Harry joined the NCSA. Stan and Dorothy Hall also moved to the Bay Area from Southern California, about the same time joining the NCSA too. Stan wrote many technical articles on soaring for Soaring magazine. He eventually designed the popular glider home-built kit, called the Cherokee. Les Arnold was already active in soaring, flying as a teenager out in the Altamont hills east of Livermore, so driving to Warm Springs from Hayward, where he lived, was fast. Les became one of the most active members for a long time to come.
The group grew, having a great time learning the soaring conditions of the Bay Area. However, into the second year at Warm Springs Airport, the owner of the field would not renew the lease, the group was forced to move. They found an airfield north of Warm Springs called Centerfield in Centerville, now Fremont. The airport was farther west and north of Mission ridge, there was some doubt about returning to the airport after soaring at the ridge. But, it turned out that the distance was not a problem. Centerfield or as everyone called it, Centerville, was on the corner of Blacow and Mowry Rd. near where the Oakland Center is now located. This was 1952. This same year Dick Johnson and his new bride, Alice, moved to Northern California joining the NCSA flying his RJ-5. The NCSA purchased a Myers Biplane as their tow plane, it climbed 1,000 feet per min using a metal Maculley prop. (I remember, as a kid, getting rides and hearing the wires sing!) During one particular tow by tow pilot Jim Hutton, he just passed the fence at the end of the field at about 100', when the prop decided to part company with the Myers landing Jim in the next field, and the prop nearby. Jim was pretty excited about towing that day! At this time TG-3's were being sold by the Government for $2,500 each. The Ames club had one and so did Les Arnold, his was called “Redwing.” Many pilots, including me, got their glider rating in ole “Redwing,” as Les fondly called her.
At that time the gliders could not go any higher than 4000', the CAA after some persuasion (now FAA) gave a waiver that allowed gliders to fly higher – no more ADIZ Zone restrictions. (started along time ago!) Fellows holding a Commercial license were; Harry Perl, Fred Matteson, Earl Menefee, Art Hunter, Phil Howland, Ralph Salisbury, Derrill (Gabby) Hansen, and Jack Stephenson. They were available to give instruction.
In 1950, the annual meeting was held for the NCSA at Onstads Smorgasbord Restaurant in San Leandro. Dinner price was $2.00 which included tax and tip! Bob Symons (Bishop wave fame) was the featured speaker. Ted Nelson set a new altitude record on October 29th in a south wind wave, 12,550 feet. Two other fellows, one flying a Dragonfly and one a Baker McMillan Cadet quickly joined the fun attaining an altitude of 10,000 feet and 9,600 feet respectively. The Cadet was without a vario! Membership costs were; $2.00 Assoc., $3.00 Active, and $5.00 family.
The early ‘50's saw many pilots from the Bay Area, traveling to El Mirage and Torrey Pines soaring sites, for soaring contests. This was an exciting time in soaring - new ships - new pilots - new soaring conditions to explore. Ted and Harry with the Hummingbird, made a survey of soaring conditions in Reno, Nevada area in 1951-1952. They reported - terrific thermals! But very dangerous country for sailplanes to the north and east. Reno Airport and the Minden Airport were willing to have sailplanes fly there. Many auto tows were done at the Minden airport - teaching all of us youngsters to fly! Only one big wooden hanger graced the many runways available to us, no other traffic! Only sage brush, jack rabbits, dust, and heat! A BT-13 was one of the tow planes, very slow, and we were low for a long time, but once into a thermal, the rising air would lift the TG-3 up, up, until the beauty of Lake Tahoe would come into view. Worth the tow! We all had a blast, Bill Bullis, Bob Gomes, Gabby Hansen, Earl Menefee, Jean Arnold, Les Arnold and many other NCSA members. A summer of learning to fly! Frequent trips to Bowers Mansion for a swim with dinner at one of the few casinos, or the JT Bar in Gardnerville. This was the beginning of many soaring flights made from that wonderful location.
In April of 1951, Emil Kissel got to 6,500 feet at sunset, in a TG-3 trying to set an endurance record, thinking the wind would blow all night! However, the wind quit during darkness and Emil was forced to land, but where? He could not tell where the airport was as there were very few lights to guide him back, but being resourceful, Emil made it!
March of 1952, Gabby Hansen and Ralph Salisbury made a trip to Sacramento at the request of John Flynn and Vic Swierkowski, they were thinking of starting a soaring club. The NCSA gave them the necessary help to start their Sacramento Soaring club. They chose to fly from the Lincoln Airport, which was like Minden with many runways, they flew there for a long time. Vic later went on to run the commercial glider operation, during the summers, at the Truckee Airport.
The third annual NCSA contest was held at Oakdale Airport June 13-14th, in 1952. By then the Sacramento group had purchased a damaged TG-3, it took a year of rebuilding to get it into the air, they were happy to be able to fly in the contest. A Baby Bowlus owned by Glen Rogers came, and Vic Swierkowski brought his LK. TG-3's, Pratt-Reid’s and Lks were the ships of the day at these contests. The Sacramento group began holding contests at the Lincoln airport in later years. There was a lot of enthusiasm in those days. Then the Napa Club formed June 4,1954. Falk Falkenberg got things rolling through the help of the Sacramento club and NCSA. They had eight members which made purchasing a ship rather difficult from a financial point of view. However, the group finally purchased a TG-3, but not without more than five months of looking at ships that were not suitable, causing a lot of disappointment and frustration. Bob Penn became their technical advisor, and helped them with plans to operate a winch. They got a souped-up ‘48 Plymouth engine which developed 95 horsepower. The cable was 4000' enabling them to reach the Napa hills, for many hours of soaring fun. Their membership included; Falk Falkenberg, Dick Hill, Enno Penchnik, Harold Quill, John Robinson, William Romans, Ed Sherry, and Bob Penn.
In 1954, the NCSA Board consisted of Dick Bray, President, Fred Jukich, vice-president, Sect. Tres. was Walt Bybee, with Asst. Tres. John Sawyer (Sawyer Award named after him) and Board; Les Arnold, Earl Menefee, George Congdon, Ted Nelson and Gabby Hansen. Bill Bullis had joined the club as an Ames club member along with Bob Gomes. Harry Perl had designed the Perl Penetrator, a high performance single place ship for the time period, it won the design award at the Nationals in 1954 at Lake Elsinore, CA.
In 1956, the NCSA & Ames soaring club was invited to move to Hummingbird Haven, home of Alice-Ted & Jerry Nelson. Ted had acquired 80 acres at the corner of Greenville Rd. and Patterson Pass Rd. in Livermore. The clubs knew they would be forced to move once again due to development, and they were right. Ted and Alice Nelson’s generous offer was excitedly accepted, and we all moved out to the Livermore Valley. Stan Hall built us a wonderful tetrahedron that stood for the 34 years we operated there. “One Never Landed Against the Tetrahedron!” Harry by that time, had become the airport manager for Ted, over seeing the whole operation until Ted and Alice moved to Reno, most members never knew how stressful that position was for Harry. The beginning of 1959, the first “John B Sawyer Memorial Participation Award” was given out. Dr. Sawyer was killed in his Mitchell Nimbus at the Nationals held at Bishop, CA the year before. Doc Sawyer as we all called him, contributed greatly to the NCSA over the years, he flew with the group during the Centerville days. In the Spring of ‘59, Les Arnold moved back to Centerville, starting his own operation called “SkySailing” which was very successful. He later moved to the Fremont airport, next to the Fremont Drag strip off the Nimitz Freeway. But, before he left, Les gave many a fledgling pilot his glider rating including my brother, Larry Perl. Jerry Nelson flying his Dad’s Hummingbird with Dad (Jerry in the backseat, because all the engine controls were in the front) learning to take off and land, later switching to a real glider for his rating. In the ensuing years he and Larry, as teenagers, would fly the Hummingbird in many waves over Livermore and Mt. Diablo. Jerry later earned his power license with an IFR rating, and graduated from San Jose State with an Engineering Degree. He now owns the Nelson Aircraft Co. in Hillsborough, Oregon designing and building model airplanes. Jerry was the International model airplane Champion in the 1970's.
Many flights in the super wave over Mt. Diablo were made during those years by everyone who flew at Hummingbird Have. Ted was the one who attained the highest recognized flight of over 22,000', and, Ted was one of the first glider pilots to have a transponder in his Hummingbird. Summer wave conditions existed over the Del Valle Reservoir south of the field in the summers. We could tell when this wave condition would start, by looking over to San Francisco, seeing the fog push in from the coast and roll over the Golden Gate Bridge. Roy Moeller flying his Cirrus, was able to climb to over 15,000' in this wave on more than one occasion. I was in this wave condition at 8,000' when a lenticular formed underneath my AS-K 13, very spectacular soaring! Livermore had great thermals, wave, ridge and cu’s, when a front passed by. We really had it all!
The 1970's saw the formation of PASCO, far thinking pilots realized that someday we would lose the soaring sites that doted the Bay Area, they all searched for a remote location that would provide a soaring site for a long time. Thus, Air Sailing was founded in the Palomino Valley west of Pyramid Lake, Nevada.
Flying at Hummingbird Haven, Dorothy and George Asdel had purchased a new Standard Cirrus, Dorothy become the first woman pilot to fly Diamond distance from Hummingbird Haven. Many Silver, Gold and Diamond distance flights were flown from our soaring site. The annual membership meetings were still held every year. Tom Jona won the most phone calls in one year to the club house to see how the conditions were. It WAS Always a Good Day at Hummingbird!
Hummingbird Haven was a wonderful location for the NCSA and Ames Club, we had a club house, pool and picnic area for the families. We held pot luck dinners every Saturday night. Lots of hanger flying after soaring, sitting on the bench’s next to the hanger. Mac Snyder was able to stay up on practically nothing, his flights were amazing, as well as Tom Jona’s. We purchased a new Super Cub - 9er9erZulu, what a wonderful ship that was, but as with most tow planes, better performance was needed, so we purchased a Bellanca Scout which is still in use today.
Most of the early driving members, Earl Menefee, Gabby Hansen, Les Arnold, Harry Perl, Fred Matteson, Jack Stephenson, and Dick Bray, started a most exciting club that is still active today. I was the first female President 1976, & 1984-5 and tow pilot. When Harry passed away in 1984, Bob Marshall became the Chief Tow pilot/Instructor, replacing Harry. Ted and Alice had sold the field moving to Reno, NV. Alice’s health declined and passed on, with Ted following a couple of years later. We all knew that soon Hummingbird Haven would be no more. In 1989, we all gathered to tear down both hangers, moving them to the Byron Airport north of Livermore. The hangers were never rebuilt, but sold to the soaring group at Hollister. The adjustment was difficult as we had flown at a private field, and, now we had to share! The newsletter “Hot Air” gave way to “The Buzzard,” which is still published. Contra Costa County took over the Byron Airport and built a new “Airport.” The new Byron Airport is like any other, the soaring conditions are okay, the club is alive and well, and finally the NCSA absorbed the Ames Soaring Club.
Members still flying, or members of the NCSA, or past members from Hummingbird days are; Earl Menefee, Bill Bullis, Mary & Mac Snyder, Elena Klein, Marge Hayes, Charlie Hayes (commercial operator at AirSailing), Ed & Peni Thunin, Roy Moeller, Leslie & Mark Summers, Mike and Bill Green, Tom and Ann Jona, Bob McKay (President of Air Sailing), Mike Oshel, Dave Pelton, Dorothy Asdel, Marty Michaels, Mike Schnieder, Bruce & Polly Patton, Peter Kelemen, Ulf & Bea Gustafsson, Jerry & Jean Hartshorn, John Apps, Peter Deane, Brooke Sargent, Hal Ross, John Seronello, Ray & Bonnie Smith, Greg Triplett, Mort & Jinx Tyler, Rich Parker, Ben & Gay Badenoch,Tamas Csoboth, Joe Huelle, Dick Larder, Jere,David,Sabine Prather, Howard Harvey, Jim & Eleanor Wasley, Tom Cooper, Curt Laumann, Dick Cook, Dick Horn, Marty Michaels, Rolf Peterson, Kempton Izuno, Steve McRoberts, Dean Watts, Wayne Harshbarger, and Bill Reuland. Les and Claire Sebald went on to form Soar Truckee, we lost Les a few years ago, Claire is still her vivacious self. Toodie & Bob Marshall live & fly in Truckee. Bob is a District Director for the Truckee Tahoe Airport. If I have missed anyone, I apologize, many moons and much water!
Time moves on changing faces, soaring sites, and ships, what doesn’t change, is the love of soaring that is passed on to the new pilots from the first pilots, who loved to fly. The soaring conditions are still the same–the same excitement of catching a thermal or wave – the same excitement soaring the skies that the early pilots were just beginning to understand!
These two poems were published in “Hot Air”, taken from a flying magazine in the 1950's. The Author’s are unknown. This is a challenging, solitary sport, returning a most special gift to those who dare to challenge the skies!
“The genius of man having conquered gravity and contrary winds and having touched the bird and found its secrets, soars from the earth a conqueror.” Author unknown
“I don’t know of anything more exhilarating than flying. It’s something you give yourself–a gift of confidence and reassurance in your own abilities.” author unknown
Earl Menefee 1917-2009 - First president of the NCSA
By Toodie Perl-Marshall
Earl Menefee and Ralph Salisbury, both worked at Ames Aeronautical Laboratory in Sunnyvale, decided to form a soaring club. In December 1946 they circulated a flyer at the Lab among fellow employees and ran an ad in the San Francisco Chronicle sports section. Both advertisements brought out 12 people; the club was called The Ames Soaring Club. Located at the Warms Springs airport just northeast of Milpitas, the group attracted the attention of other glider pilots who owned their own gliders. Earl had purchased a Bowlus Super Albatross glider, which made him decide to form another glider club since there were more pilots with private ships than those that needed a group to own one glider, so a club for everyone started. The Northern California Soaring Association was formed with Earl as the first President. This was 1950. Earl did a lot of soaring in the hills to the east of the Warm Springs airport, or Mission Peak ridge. He flew at other sailplane meets such as Torrey Pines, Lincoln Airport east of Sacramento, Oroville airport for contests, towing his glider on a trailer behind his car. Earl would later take his glider to Minden, Nevada to soar the beautiful Sierras during the summer months.
The first issue of the NCSA’s newsletter “Hot Air” ran this story, “E.O. Menefee flew his Super Albatross to Gilroy on January 2, 1950 and history was made when he became the first man to land on the Gilroy Grammar School playground. This was the first Silver “C” distance made from the Warm Springs airport”. Earl’s love of soaring also involved him in the editorship of the NCSA’s newsletter, “Hot Air”. He wrote and published this newsletter for a long time. Some of the ships Earl owned included a Bowlus Super Albatross, MG-23, Standard Austria, Diamont, and an MG-23SL, which was a high performance ship then. In the later years, the NCSA moved to Hummingbird Haven gliderport in Livermore, Earl would fly all afternoon while his lovely new wife, Nancy enjoyed the company of other soaring families for picnics and swimming in the Nelson pool.
Earl was instrumental in introducing many new people to soaring through the Ames Club. Earl would give introductory rides in one of the Club ships. Earl was a kind, caring person, always willing to lend a hand repairing an Ames Club ship or doing chores around the glider field. Earl was instrumental in starting the oldest glider club in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is still operating today. Earl passed quietly on July 24th at home in Sunnyvale at age 92.