The Cessna Pilots Association was at one time the largest Cessna owner type club, setting the standard for which plenty of other owner support organizations eventually followed. It flourished through the 1990s and well into the new millennium, but the unexpected passing of its founder and president, John Frank, led to a near immediate technical shutdown. The go-to for all things Cessna support (arguably a better resource than Cessna Aircraft itself) also died, but thankfully not forever. Family members, faithful supporters, contributors and a group of steadfast members combined to keep the group alive, and after a lot of time, money and reorganization, the CPA is beginning to come back.
GONE SILENT, PARTLY
Back in the early 1980s, aircraft type clubs were becoming a good resource for aircraft ownership, and their goal was to tame the rising costs of replacement parts and maintenance prices. At the same time, some aircraft owners were becoming interested in doing their own maintenance. John Frank was in Wichita, Kansas, running the American Bonanza Society, and his wife Kris was ramrodding the Flying Farmers group. Both were Cessna people and watched as type clubs were forming around them. There was one Cessna group—the Cessna Owner’s Organization—that was owned by a magazine publisher and it ran more as a business than a club, and it focused more on the social aspects of flying.
But the Franks were concerned with maintenance and safety, so they began a group where the thrust was teaching owners about all aspects of their airplanes.
The club was chartered, the first newsletter came out in 1984 and later that year they took it to Oshkosh where Cessna owners joined in droves. The newsletter grew into a full-blown, four-color magazine and John Frank, along with Tom Carr, developed a series of seminars on the care and feeding of Cessnas, while the magazine kept pilots up to date on technical and mechanical items, including new replacement parts (McFarlane Aviation was starting up with approved aftermarket Cessna parts around this time).
CPA membership rose to over 14,000 members and it became the ultimate source for Cessna technical support. Success requires energy, and eventually Frank began to tire and enter that middle-aged doldrum area. The high level of attention he was giving the group began to level off and even decline and this showed in the membership. The entire CPA family was devastated when his son, Steven John Frank, died unexpectedly. Frank Sr. was deeply affected and never completely recovered.
So when Frank Sr. suddenly passed away in 2016, it left a group that was shocked (and in charge) trying to continue to serve the membership. Kris, Tom and by now Paul New, along with John Frank III, were thrown into leadership roles, and just when it was all figured out, the CPA’s computer system was hacked and virtually destroyed. The lack of recoverable data was serious for a couple of years, but the technical archive, probably the most valued CPA member resource, was slowly being rebuilt a little more every day.
While the group was suffering from these losses, rumors began to appear that the CPA was done. Overwhelmed with all of the sudden changes and losses, the small staff scrambled to keep things together (the pandemic didn’t help), and while not having the time or resources to battle the rumors, normal business continued and all of the CPA magazine schedules were met.
NEW CHAPTER: CPA-WICKI
A new IT company was hired to rebuild the CPA’s computer system, and Colorado-based John Frank III has taken over the presidency to guide the group forward. Kris Long continues as the CPA Magazine editor and is the main interface with the membership. The Tech Ticket guys continue to help owners figure out where to go for parts, service and other Cessna stuff for the legacy and the late-generation aircraft.
John Frank III is congenial, knowledgeable about the CPA (though not a pilot) and very positive about the CPA’s future. Under his guidance, the tech archives are being transcribed and saved in their upcoming CPAWicki, which should be online by the time you read this.
One of the best additions to the website will be that CPA-Wicki, which can take an owner to any article, press release, maintenance item, part, STC or anything that has ever been published within the pages. Over the past year and a half, seminars have been reappearing. Cessna 182 and 210 seminars are being scheduled with Paul Dye as MC, and Frank III has started recording the presentations and live-streaming to members. Plans are to do programs for other models and legacy aircraft, based on their particular needs.
Frank is well aware of the changes coming to the industry. Fuel will be a concern, and the rush toward eliminating carbon footprints will have a yet unknown effect. The magazine has been tasked with keeping the membership up to date on the latest tech and legislation, so there will be regular features on the new businesses, their technology and the effects on member aircraft.
Today, the CPA Magazine has a full complement of tech writers and contributors with a focus on keeping the membership involved with maintenance topics and technical solutions. This includes dissecting the rapid advances in avionics, the transition to unleaded fuel and of course the technical resources that the CPA has long been known for, but missed in recent years.
John Frank III and Kris Long said they are working to bring the Cessna Pilots Association back to the flourishing, dynamic type club it was at its peak, and helping owners be the most informed of any brand. They believe aviation will change at a fast rate over the next decade. To that end, I think it’s more important than ever to have a group of like-minded enthusiastic people with nearly 40 years of accumulated Cessna knowledge helping Cessna owners keep their airplanes safe, well maintained and legal, just as it was in the CPA’s heyday. Visit www.cessna.org.
Author Jim Cavanagh is a longtime CPA technical contributor and aircraft owner based in Missouri.