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Robert Gaines

Born on June 8, 1938 in Santa Monica California, Bob Gaines joined the Air Force in 1959.  Shortly thereafter, while in Kansas training to fly the B-47, the first of a long series of Boeing jets, he started his soaring career, which was to exceed fifty years in duration.  Bob’s first soaring experience was in TG-3A’s with the Wichita Soaring Association. As he progressed in B-47 training, he was transferred to Little Rock, AR, where he flew a TG-1A “Cinema” and helped form the local club.  Later military transfers, first to Spokane, WA and, then to Dallas TX, led him to become a member of Texas Soaring Association.

In the mid 60’s Bob acquired a Weihe, the same one in which Dick Johnson won the 1959 National Contest, and started cross-country soaring with it, earning his Silver C (US number 1418) in 1968 while based at Fairchild AFB near Spokane, WA.  Bob’s article concerning his adventures with his Weihe, and his flight of almost Gold-C Distance proportions appeared in the VSA publication Bungee Cord in 2007. It clearly demonstrated Bob’s enthusiasm for soaring, and possibly a nascent interest in grand old gliders.

Later in the 1960s, after a tour flying B-47s world-wide, Bob transitioned into the KC-135 jet tanker and flew a tour in KC-135 tankers out of Fairchild AFB, WA and then Thailand, supporting the Viet Nam War. In 1968, Bob left the Air Force and was hired by Delta Air Lines as a pilot.  Capping a thirty-year career with Delta in 1998, he retired as a senior Flight Instructor and Line Check Captain, mentoring junior Captains on the techniques required for flying the Boeing B-767-300ER in international operations.  In 1994, late in his Delta career, he was selected to command a new-delivery  Boeing                 B-767-300ER VFR-flying expedition from Mojave, CA, where he flew in formation with a Clay Lacy photo-Learjet filming aerial shots for a very creative and popular Delta Air Lines commercial tuned to New Age music (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UC6acGUnqXM).  Near the close of the commercial Bob is seen saluting the camera plane from the cockpit of the B767. This video seems to capture much of the mystery and spirit of flying and, of course, soaring, so it is very appropriate that it is a lasting tribute to Bob.  He later commented to friends that that was the only opportunity he ever had to fly a commercial jet under VFR rules.

He earned his Gold C (US number 880) and diamond distance and goal legs during the 1970s, while living in Texas.  In the 1980’s, while working on his airline career and residing in Atlanta Georgia, Bob was a regular on the competition circuit with a record that included a first place win in the Region 5 South Open Class with his new DG 202/17.  During the 1980’s Bob spent much of his spare time as the east coast dealer for Glaser Dirks Flugzeugbau.   As with most such endeavors, Bob’s contribution was as strong in customer service and product support as it was in competing, demonstrating and acting as a sales agent. During this period, he made many soaring friends around the world, which later supported his affinity for the acquisition and restoration of vintage sailplanes.

 After he discovered vintage sailplanes, Bob spent years to become a master wood-working craftsman and won numerous restoration awards for projects such as his Ka-3 (1991), MU-13D3 (2000) and Kirby Kite (2005).  At his passing, he had many other projects such underway. Over the years, and around the world, he has flown many of the world’s most rare and interesting historic gliders. Accompanied by his supportive wife Alice, Bob was a frequent pilot, exhibitor and speaker at vintage meets throughout the United States, around the world and at the International Vintage Sailplane Meets at Elmira.

Many in the vintage soaring movement would say that Bob’s personal contributions to them, as individuals, has been as a mentor who has shown them how to repair and refurbish historic sailplanes, how to fly them and how to restore them to proper museum standards. Bob has helped numbers of American vintage enthusiasts in the process of importing antique sailplanes and licensing them in spite of arduous paperwork requirements. Aided by his own infectious enthusiasm Bob has given many new vintage collectors their first real taste of flying and restoring historic sailplanes.

Fame and Volunteering

Bob Gaines was one of the well-known and frequently seen faces of the SSA, NSM and VSA.  Although the titles and offices Bob has held as Vice President of SSA, President of the National Soaring Museum (an SSA affiliate) and President of the Vintage Sailplane Association (an SSA division) are achievements in their own right, the advancement of each of those associations during Bob’s tenure are testament to his consistent, long-term contributions.

The Soaring Society of America: Bob started volunteering for SSA in the 1970’s, devoting thousands of hours to helping others enjoy their favorite aspects of soaring. He became an SSA Vice President and a member of the SSA Executive Committee in the early 1990’s, having started as a Director at Large and later becoming the elected Director for SSA Region 5. He was SSA Publications Board Chair from 1987 through 1991 and he edited the monthly Safety Corner in Soaring Magazine from 1978 through 1986. He was SSA Safety Chairman after serving on the Flight Training and Safety Board since the late 1970’s.  Bob was Co-Chairman of the Atlanta SSA Convention in 1988 and 17 years later (in 2005) he did it again. Since then he was often SSA’s “go-to” volunteer to handle exhibitor move-in and move-out at SSA conventions.

The National Soaring Museum: Bob served as President in 2004 and 2005. He served as a Trustee of the NSM for 14 years (since 1997) and was part of the National Landmark of Soaring Committee from 1994 to 2008. He was chair of the International Vintage Sailplane Meet (IVSM) in 2000 and has been an active volunteer for every other IVSM.

The Vintage Sailplane Association: Bob was President from 1996 through 2000 and provided much needed liaison during that period between the NSM and the VSA. In 1992 Bob launched one of VSA’s most involved projects, the English translation of Hans Jacobs’ 1930’s sailplane repair classic, Werkstattpraxis. Bob arranged partial funding by converting a Phoebus sailplane that had been bequeathed to the VSA into cash for the purpose of publishing the book. That volunteer-based project, 20 years later, is still in process and awaits completion.  For many years, Bob represented the US and particularly the VSA internationally. One example of his spreading the history of American soaring was a three year period when, with a number of other VSA’ers, he took a beautifully restored 1950’s Schweitzer 1-26 to Europe to introduce the heritage of American soaring among “old world” vintage soaring zealots.

Achievements and Contributions

Notable among Bob’s important achievements for the good of the soaring movement in the Southeast is the stabilization of the Chilhowee Gliderport after the untimely death of Chilhowee’s founder, Mike Reisman in 1997.  Bob inspired and led a group of local soaring enthusiasts in a group effort to continue the operation and provide staff and fleet until a new manager could be enticed to take it over.  This project required considerable capital outlay and work over several years. Bob’s willingness to invest in the dream of a new Chilhowee, in addition to his capabilities as a long-time glider instructor and towpilot, helped the gliderport grow until it could be transferred to new hands, and today it is one of the premier soaring sites in the Southeast, very successfully operated by Sarah Arnold.

Another of Bob’s major accomplishments has involved devotion to family and the genesis of a successful soaring business developed by his son Paul.  After working for a period at Brian Evans Sailplane Repair in Atlanta, through Bob’s DG contacts, Paul was able to apprentice at the DG factory in Germany and became a master composites craftsman.  Bob fostered Paul’s business growth and further composite training which Paul has used to grow his well-known composite sailplane and airplane repair business, Composite Solutions, located in Kingman, AZ.  Paul, a vintage enthusiast himself, is a frequent speaker at the Experimental Soaring Association, carrying on Bob’s tradition.

A key aspect of Bob’s personality was his ability to get things done in a subtle manner with never an indication of frustration or animosity.  He always took the high road and gently led others to see the right path.  Many of his friends are coming to realize how much he affected them and how they now react to challenges.  He was a good friend that wanted to always have the best from and for everyone.  Bob quietly communicated his ideas with confidence, knew what needed to be accomplished, and had the patience to both lead and foster others’ path to accomplishment of the larger goals.  He approached all issues logically, and, of course, his marvelous humor often softened the greatest battles.   His leadership and personality style helped others be better people, as was found in running Chilhowee Gliderport.  For many, his leadership helped make saving Chilhowee one of the high points in their lives.  To quote a key player in that effort, “Thanks to Bob, we did what we started out to do, keeping Chilhowee alive and turning it over to someone who would even do better than us.” 

Bob Gaines has contributed to and achieved much for The Soaring Society of America, the National Soaring Museum, the Vintage Sailplane Association and other organizations, clubs and individuals. He has achieved an enviable record in many facets of soaring as a pilot and as an administrator, contributor, advisor and mentor. He is well-known for his work throughout the United States and the world and is, in fact, a person who has made a significant difference to the sport of soaring.

 Donations to the National Soaring Museum in Elmira, NY may be made in his name.

“The measure of a person’s true worth may be compared to how badly they are missed, how badly you want to hold on to them, how badly you feel you can’t get by without them, but most of all, how much respect you have for them. Their impact may have been and will certainly still be hidden in the daily background noise. Thankfully, there will be those times when nothing can drown the sound of their life and its everlasting imprint on us.”

May we take comfort from our friendships, especially those that Bob brought together.

Robert E. Gaines

June 8, 1938 – April 20, 2011

SSA Achievements Page

Posted: 5/16/2011


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