In 1989 several volunteers at the Commemorative Air Force museum at Falcon Field in Mesa, Arizona, realized they shared a mutual interest in restoring helicopters for static displays. Since the CAF primarily restored World War II-era aircraft to airworthiness condition, these individuals, many of whom also worked at the adjacent McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Company (formerly Hughes Aircraft), decided to form their own organization. These enthusiasts, led by K. B. “Doc” Smith, began the Valley Aircraft Restoration Society in May 1989 as a non-profit corporation.
Soon VARS members were busy restoring a 1967 OH-6A Cayuse, originally built by Hughes Aircraft and much used during the Vietnam War as a Light Observation Helicopter (thus, its nickname “Loach.”). The club eventually donated this aircraft to the St. Louis, Missouri, Science Center where over two million annual visitors viewed its work. VARS then went to work restoring two Brantly helicopters and an experimental one-man jet.
By the late 1990s, as the original members left VARS, newer members expressed interest in turning VARS into a flying club. Soon a 1979 Cessna 152, (N47930), graced the floor of the club’s hangar at Falcon Field. Well flown but limited in capacity, the club sold that airplane in 2003 and acquired a 1976 Grumman American AA-5A Cheetah. With seating for four and larger engine the Cheetah offered club members the opportunity to expand their cross country adventures. Unfortunately, a hard landing in 2007 severely damaged the Cheetah and it was no longer flyable. Shortly afterward, a 1977 Piper Archer II (N4098Q), quickly replaced the Cheetah. Over the next nine years, the members of VARS flew the Archer for hundreds of enjoyable hours to locations far and near. By late 2016 the Archer had been flown for more than 2,200 hours on the original engine. Club members faced a difficult decision: Should money be spent on overhauling the engine, upgrading the avionics, to include the FAA-mandated ADS-B out equipment, and making other needed repairs to the Archer, or should the club acquire another aircraft. It was not an easy decision.
Ultimately, the club opted to sell the Archer and upgrade its aircraft. In May 2017 VARS took possession of a pristine 1972 Piper Cherokee 235F. This aircraft provided much greater capacity and performance to the members. Well-equipped with a Garmin 530W GPS unit, a Garmin 345 ADS-B In/Out transponder, an autopilot slaved to the 530W, long-range fuel tanks, and an engine with less than 500 hours, the Cherokee 235, lends itself to quick hops for that “$100 hamburger” or long cross country trips.
Edward F. Murphy
(Special thanks to DJ Vegh and Pat Butler for their input)