#95 Pilots, Planes and Flying Clubs – Part 3

Some of the members of the Kinsley Flying Club discussed in last week’s article would join the Flying Farmers. This organization began when thirty Oklahoma farmers organized the first state Flying Farmers in 1944 at Oklahoma A&M. Kansas would organize in 1946 and hold their first fly-in in Hutchinson that year. It would soon become both a national and international group.

The main goal of Flying Farmers was to promote the use of aircraft in agriculture and sponsor both education and research in agricultural aviation. The members were people who got at least 51 % of their earnings from agriculture-related work on the one hand, and flew either for business and/or pleasure on the other. Flying Farmers also became useful for viewing aerial soil conservation, and sometimes they would serve in emergency medical flights.

Farmers had adapted to the airplane early on and soon farm women made up about half of the pilots. Clara and Charles Schmitt of Kinsley are a good example of a flying couple who have been member of Flying Farmers since 1970.

They began by taking flying lessons together from Milton (Bud) Pinkston of St. John.

“Charles finished in 1970, a few months before I did in 1971,” said Clara. “It was expensive to rent a plane for flying hours, and I had children to care for which slowed me down a little.”

Their first plane was a 4-seater Cessna. “We used it to check on cattle,” said Clara, “and to just run around in. It didn’t use a lot of gasoline, and I could get it out of the hangar by myself. Sometimes Charles would fly our son Leon and Randy Gray (they worked on the farm) to Dodge City just to get a hamburger for lunch.”

“One year, the cattle were good and the crops were good,” said Charles, “so we traded that plane in for a brand new 4-seater Cessna 172SP Skyhawk XP11 with a variable-speed prop. You could land on roads and it took a shorter runway.”

Charles also used the plane to buy cattle in Nebraska and Arkansas. “We had cattle out at Kalvesta,” he said, “and I could log the flights down and take them off our income tax as a business expense. I think I put 1400 hours on it.”

The Schmitts first stored their plane in a hangar at the Larned airport, but then were able to rent one in Kinsley. Clara commented that the Cessna 172 was bigger and took more gasoline. She could not get it out of the hangar by herself. Another expense was the plane had to be inspected every year.

Clara & Charles Schmitt c. 1980

In 1973 Clara was the Kansas Flying Farmer Queen. Charles served as District 6 director from 1977-1979, second vice president in 1980 and first vice president in 1981. Other members from Kinsley included Jim and Christina Lippoldt and Vincent and Rose Elpers.

Kari, LaVeta, Elmer & Rx Hahn, c. 1980

Elmer and LaVeta Hahn of Belpre were members since 1955.  Elmer served as District 6 Director in 1956 and 1957 and was elected vice president in 1964 and president in 1965.  He organized and hosted a fly-in at his farm and in every area of the state.  LaVeta was also the Kansas Queen in 1961.

Early on, the Flying Farmers had a mission to fly for charity.  In 1954 they sponsored a “Flight of Dimes” to open the March of Dimes campaign.  From the late 1960s through the 1980s they flew “Donation Flights” where passengers donated a penny a pound to the Capper Foundation for Crippled Children.  The Schmitts participated at the Larned airport and the Great Bend airport in these activities.   

“We’d give people rides and they’d give us money.” Said Charles.  “The year I was president, we had a good year. There were six different districts in Kansas.  Each district would set these charity flights on a certain day in October.  We got enough that time that we ended up at $106,000 total.”

Flying Farmers held annual conventions in the states, and the Schmitts would go to Kansas conventions and to neighboring state conventions.  The also went to five international conventions. twice for International conventions.

Charles and Clara agree that they loved every minute of being involved with the Flying farmers. “Those were the best years of our lives,” Charles said.  “I said as a kid that if I could fly an airplane – or farm- I’d be happy, and I got to do both.”

The Flying Farmers donated all of their archive to the Mid-America Air Museum in Liberal, KS.  I hope to make a trip to this museum to find more information and pictures of our local participation in the organization.