Roland Smith, a member of the Bennington Sport Flying Club EAA Chapter 1375, stands inside a hangar at the William H. Morse State Airport Saturday with the
Roland Smith, a member of the Bennington Sport Flying Club EAA Chapter 1375, stands inside a hangar at the William H. Morse State Airport Saturday with the plane he built from a kit. Smith and several dozen other flying enthusiasts gathered for a French toast breakfast, proceeds of which benefited the club. (Carl Villanueva)
BENNINGTON -- The French toast was good, but it wasn't the sole reason aviation enthusiasts flew in from other states Saturday morning.

About 40 people gathered at the William H. Morse State Airport for a breakfast sponsored by The Bennington Sport Flying Club EAA Chapter 1375. Some came in cars but many arrived by planes they built themselves.

Snow forecast for the afternoon kept some of the pilots who had RSVPd at bay. But Saturday morning's skies were clear and sunny.

And the french toast and coffee were hot, served up in the state-run airport's second floor. There was plentiful Vermont Maple Syrup form the Horst Maple Farm in Bennington, and also bacon, fruit and juice -- all had for a small donation.

Pilot Jim Doody flew in from nearby Cambridge, N.Y. Doody, who's been a pilot since 1976, said it's not uncommon to jump in the plane to head over to the next state for a meal. "I fly for breakfast all the time," he said with a grin. "These fly-in breakfasts are a big deal. But this is kind of an odd time of year for it."

Tim Allen, a North Petersburgh, N.Y., resident, said he came just for the French toast. "It's good," said Allen, who noted he's been flying for 40 years.

Others came from Johnstown, N.Y., and Bennington, Pownal and Rutland, Vt.

Club vice president Ron James said the local EAA (which stands for Experimental Aircraft Association) club is a chapter of the national organization. "The premise is home-built," he said

The club holds monthly meetings at Morse airport and often hosts fly-ins.

"This is our first fly-in indoors -- we usually do things outdoors. In the summertime we try to do one event a month," said James, recalling many hamburgers and hot dogs grilled for fly-ins held in fairer weather.

The funds collected Saturday will help to support the Flying Club, which has a few dozen members. The club plans to hold several fly-ins and fundraising events throughout the year, including a fly-in golf tournament in May, a pumpkin drop in October and a Santa Claus Skydive in December (following the success of one held last month), according to Darrin Lofton, airport manager.

"We had 40 aircraft RSVP, but then the weather report (Friday) night called for sleet and this morning. So 15 aircraft canceled. And it's beautiful weather," Lofton said. "It was a good turnout. The local EAA chapter made some good money. Next time we hope to draw in bigger numbers of aircraft."

Barbara and Bob Houle of Bennington, both pilots, were among those enjoying the breakfast. Houle said he keeps a four-seater plane at the airport.

"We came to the breakfast today because it seemed like the think to do to support the club," said Houle, who's been flying since 1954.

Another breakfast attendee was Roland Smith of Bennington, who built his own plane from a kit and keeps it domiciled at the airport. He has his own airstrip on nearby Whipstock Hill.

"General aviation has been hit a lot" by the economy, Smith said "We recently lost our key place here, AirNow. " A charter cargo airline begun in 1957 in Bennington, AirNow folded in 2011 after contracts with UPS were terminated.

Smith continued, "A lot of us believe that aviation is really very exciting. Some people think only rich people can afford to fly. I don't believe that." He said the club's hope is that events like Saturday's might draw people who have an interest in flying.

Smith noted there are different categories, such as sport flying, "which costs about half as much as it does to get your pilot's license."

"The Bennington airport is becoming more private and recreational," said club member Gary Warren. "So that's why we're looking forward to more activities with the sport recreational club."

Assisting at the event were volunteer members of the Bennington Rural Fire department.

Send story ideas to Michelle Karas at mkaras@benningtonbanner.com. Follow her on Twitter @bannereditor