W8KTZ St. Joe's High School Radio Club

---Ham Radio Club Member recollections growing out of the 50's, 60's, and 70's

"The Airplane Adventures"

by Mike Stimac

--lead to AFRICA, UMATT, --and beyond!

Control of events from a distance is a power that thrills. Controlling a buzzing little object flying around high above the fields is a pleasure that radio operators enjoy. At SJH the chemistry and mechanics teacher, Brother Paul Koller, was an enthusiastic model airplane builder. He was of the scientific mental type who quickly agreed to the Radio Club’s idea of radio controlling model airplanes.

This led to thinking of the benefits of aviation – piloting real airplanes – to which students might be introduced, and which would acquaint them with just one more future career opportunity. So Paul Kollar and Mike Stimac began to plan and plot. The idea grew into a course offering a class after school hours, which would study the physics of airplanes, and provide pilot ground school training . . .

Typical of boundless imagination, the two teachers went to Lost Nation Airport, in Willoughby, Ohio, and proposed bringing the students out there. The boys would walk around the aircraft, or maybe go up on demonstration flights.

Mr. McNeely, the airport director, squashed the idea promptly. But good hearted person that he was, he proposed that Mike would learn to fly and then he and Paul could go airborne with the aviation class.

Bill McNeely had a promotional activity subsidized by Cessna Corporation which ran a sort of flying club for future buyers of their Cessna’s. This club necessitated an entrance fee of $500. As with all Radio Club projects, obstacles merely required imagination, and in this case, a grateful friend who had been assisted with his boat radio problem (by the Radio Club guys, drew on his company account and paid Mr. McNeely the $500. So really, Mazi, Marsey, Kulwin, Kuzmic, Kozar, Leskovec, Cegelski, Miller – many of whom who had worked on the clandestine 250 watt amplifier for Mr. Swetel’s boat, enabled the aviation program to become airborne.

Mike settled down to the flight training and in September of that year qualified for his pilot license. The availability of airplanes was unbelievable – especially by today’s standards of $80 or $100 hourly rental cost. In McNeely’s club, the SJH aviation students flew for $7 an hour!

The aviation class was charged a $20 lab fee. Since the airplane could carry a group of 3 students, the fees of 3 students allowed that little team to be airborne for almost 9 hours – which added up to journeys totaling a 1000 miles. Suddenly flights to Niagara or Elmira in New York, or the museums of Chicago by Lakefront airport were easily done within a couple of hours. Soon even girls’ schools like Nazareth were arranging flights and all of this led to hundreds of column inches of great newspaper stories of the classroom in the clouds.

But Mike now being fully qualified to fly brought about an abrupt change, because this new skill, added to his ham-radio, electronic, and mechanical skills, made him invaluable to the missions in Africa.

The students at the old Radio Club had to now fend for themselves when Mike went to Africa. But the influence of the SJHRC did not stop. Mike flew occasionally during the first year when he became aware of the tremendous waste of highly educated doctors, teachers and other stranded in the wilds of Africa. He organized a flight service to help these people, and many families in the states joined the effort. They formed a tax-exempt foundation called by the unwieldy name "United Missionary Aviation Training and Transport"– UMATT for short. In a year or two Mike was serving 140 bush locations and UMATT had received 8 airplanes for the project. The Society of Mary supplied the organizational channels for this help to reach Africa.

Mike stayed with the flying for almost 15 years, sometime spending 12 hours of a day in the African skies. Vaccines were delivered, victims of lion attacks and car accidents were rushed out the bush to Nairobi hospitals, doctors, nurses and teachers were rotated in and out of trackless bush locations and volunteers came and went, keeping the operation running.

One such group was Austrian. Their government developed an appreciation for the project which resulted in their taking it over for their Peace-Corp-type of work in Africa. At this point Mike was no longer essential to the operation. Coincidentally, he was visited by representatives of the Saudi Arabian Airlines who wanted him to come to Jeddah, on the Red Sea, and manage their flight training. Once before, Mike had landed there for fuel while he and a new pilot delivered two airplanes from Shannon, Ireland to Nairobi, Kenya. The event had not been forgotten. In Jeddah a warm welcome took place, and ten happy years of working with the Arabs followed. This included, of all things, coming back to the United States to manage some of their interests in Texas, and the occasional chance to get back up to Ohio to visit relatives and members of the old radio club.

Back in the states by the 1980’s, Mike got to fly a bit each month, but the crowded skies and pilots, commercial and private, who know all the rules but unfortunately have had so little opportunity for experiences, made flying less of an adventure than that of the African bush or the Arabian deserts. These days, the soaring cost of aircraft fuel, and high cost of rental make it beyond reach for most people to fly, let alone own aircraft for any but serious business purposes.

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