History of HAFFA Part 1 — History of HAFFA Part 2 — History of HAFFA Part 3
—This is the 2nd installment of a 3 part series of the History of HAFFA—
See also History of HAFFA Gallery for history of members and past members.
Although the history of HAFFA has a rich heritage in Kansas City, It wasn’t always that way. In fact, It didn’t even start in Kansas City, It all started in Topeka, Kansas, some 65 miles to the west with a club called TOPMAC which stood for or Topeka Model Aircrafters Club.
TOPMAC was the brain child of a man named Jack E. Koehlar back in 1987. At the time, Jack was working as a ‘chief pilot’ for Meisinger Beechcraft, LLC, a family owned, independent Beechcraft distributor and dealership based at TOP, Billard Municipal Airport, Topeka, KS.
Meisinger Beechcraft, LLC owned other Fixed Base Operations at OJC, MKC, KCI, and 1HO airports. (At that time, Raytheon owned all the Beechcraft distributorships except for the Meisinger’s and one other “independent”.)
Jack, who enjoyed the hobby of building and flying model aircraft, decided to start a new club called TOPMAC, Topeka Model Aircrafters Club, and started holding ‘fun flys’ and contests for the members of the small, but rapidly growing, club. (At it’s peak in 1995 TOPMAC’s had 45 “paid members”, half of whom were primarily newsletter subscribers, including one in Kumamoto, Japan and another in Mallemort, France.)
In the late 1980s and early 1990s Jack’s indoor flying events, informal “$1 fun flys” at which club members could set “TOPMAC Stone Hangar Cat I Indoor Records”, took place every other Sunday from 9 am – 4 pm in a stone-built airplane hanger, appropriately referred to as “The Stone Hanger” located at the the Billard Airport, Topeka KS. Jack had to show up at the Stone Hangar by 8 am on fun fly Sundays and use tugs to pull 6-10 planes out of the hangars, and then had to put them all back in the hangar after 4 pm. Members timed each other’s flights, and Jack saw to it that “Stone Hangar Record Times” for events were recorded in logs he furnished. He would then report them in the next TOPMAC newsletter.
TOPMAC’s twice a month Sunday Stone Hangar $1 fun flys won TOPMAC many new “indoor flyer” members from Topeka’s RC and U-control flyers ranks as well as free flight flyers from Kansas City. KS/MO and St. Joe, MO metro areas, and quickly grew the club.
Jack’s employer, Daniel L Meisinger, “Senior” and his son Jack allowed Koehlar to use their Stone Hangar rent free for TOPMAC fun flys for several years (1987 – 1995 ?) until one of their customer’s complained about their plane being moved outside for fun flys. So, indoor flying was moved 25 miles South to a small school gym in Auburn, Kansas for a couple years.
TOPMAC’s first unsanctioned outdoor “$1 fun flys” (1989-1991) were held on the grassy fields of the South lawn of the Kansas Governors Cedar Crest Mansion in West Topeka.
1990 thru 1994, TOPMAC held annual April 2-day weekend AMA sanctioned district Cat II indoor contest in the Whiting Fieldhouse at Topeka’s Washburn University. Some 18-20 indoor events were flown and awarded with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place trophies and/or ribbons. Koehlar made all the arrangements for theses contests, including procuring the trophies and raffle prizes, and was the AMA Contest Director. Contestants timed each others flights. These AMA sanctioned contests drew contestants from Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Unfortunately, after the first Whiting Fieldhouse contest, WU raised the rent from $100 to $200 for the next three years, then WU wanted $500 the 5th year which put the cost out-of-range and ended the TOPMAC contests there. This would have happened the following year, anyway, because WU ruined Whiting by turning the gym floor area with a 50 ft. ceiling into a two-story structure with a weight-room on the first floor, and a low-ceiling basketball court on the second.
In 1992-1996, AMA sanctioned outdoor contests that took place at the Ottawa Airport, KS about 60 miles to the southeast of Topeka and also about 60 miles southwest of Overland Park, KS. These were held the last weekend of the month from May through October, and brought entries from Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. Koehlar picked the events, kept track of the times, published them in the TOPMAC newsletter, and just about “Ran Everything”. It was at one of these events that esteemed TOPMAC member Roger Schroeder named Koehlar TOPMAC’s “Benevolent Dictator” because it was all left up to him. This was a badge of honor, as everyone looked up to him.
This picture was taken at one of TOPMAC’s AMA sanctioned contests at the Ottawa, KS municipal airport.
It was about this time that our current president, Mike Basta, joined the group, traveling the 60 plus miles each way to participate in the contests. As there was no Kansas city based group, this was his only option. You see, Mike has been participating in the the hobby of aeromodeling since the age of 5, introduced to him by his exceptional father, who was a national winner of Aeromodeling contests in the 1950’s.
In the background of the photo above you can see one of the hangers at the Ottawa Airport. It appears in the photo that he is winding the rubber motor of his Panda P-30, which he still has, carefully boxed up in storage. In 2016, he has been known to bring this model and others that he has built over a lifetime of his devotion to the hobby, to club events like the Open Hanger Days at the Olathe Navel Base and others to garner interest in our club. Mike also has been using the same winder and stooge shown in the photo to this day.