Under the buzz of six propeller-driven planes, one breaking off to signify the absence of a fallen pilot, members of the North Cascade Hangar of Quiet Birdmen toasted aviators who have, as they say, gone west with the setting sun.
The commemoration took place at the Anacortes Airport Thursday evening at the Pilots’ Place memorial created to honor pilots who have died, including Quiet Birdman John Carabba who passed away July 14 at the age of 83.
“They love to fly and have gone west,” said Dick Iverson, key man in charge of the local Quiet Birdmen chapter, though he’s quick to point out he’s no better than any other member.
The North Cascade Hangar started about six years ago with about 12 members, building up to the 70 members it has today.
The organization has a reputation of being hard to get into, said member Stu Smith. Potential members must attend the monthly meetings for about two years as “candidates” before being voted in unanimously by charter members.
“Nothing very difficult,” Smith said. “It’s just dedication.”
The Quiet Birdmen organization has chapters all over country. It began after the death of a World War I aviator who was said to have gone home, or west, Iverson said.
Known as a secret pilots’ society, the first meetings in 1921 were held at a “spaghetti place” in New York City, according to one source.
Though an earlier reference suggests the group’s purpose was to relive the old days flying, others say it was to “eat well, drink well and have a good time.”
“It’s not called the Ancient and Secret Order of Quiet Birdmen for nothing,” Iverson said.
The members do share stories and “hangar fly,” talk about lessons learned, and fly together, Iverson said.
“We always learn something,” he said.
The meetings always include a guest speaker, either one of the chapter’s own or another chapter’s member. Past speakers have included Boeing test pilots and late author Ernest K. Gann, who wrote “The High and the Mighty” and “Fate is the Hunter” and lived on San Juan Island.
“We have a wealth of knowledge, so we share our lessons learned,” Iverson said.
Members must be active or retired military or commercial pilots with about 500 flight hours in.
“That’s the only requirement is to have a certain number of flight hours and be a ‘goodfellow,’” Iverson said with a chuckle. It is the largest fraternal order of pilots, similar to the Order of Daedalians, a fraternal organization of military pilots also formed in 1921.
No women are allowed and neither are keewees or modocks.
According to membership cards, each member is “a certified goodfellow mounted alone into the realms beyond the reach of Keewee and Modock and should be accorded all gestures of friendship and aid by fellow quiet birdmen wherever they may meet.”
A keewee is a “term contemptuously applied to any ground officer of the Air Service,” while a modoc is “a flashy chap who goes around wearing helmet and goggles, and more than likely, leather boots and riding breeches, too, and talking about the big things he is going to do for aviation,” according to Internet sites.
Washington’s other Quiet Birdmen chapters are in Spokane, Olympia and Seattle.
The Pilots’ Place was funded entirely with members’ donations. Surrounding a compass rose pointing west are eight concrete and one stainless steel bench carved with the Quiet Birdmen logo, the letters QB in the middle of a set of wings.
The space is intended for anyone wanting to honor aviators, Iverson said.
It’s also a place a mother and son can sit and watch planes take off and land, a scene Warren Walz saw just the day before the dedication.
“That’s what it was meant to be for,” said Walz, who as a candidate to become a Quiet Birdman suggested the northeast corner of the airport for the memorial.
It’s also a moving site to toast aviators who have gone west, a tradition at the beginning of every Birdmen meeting following the Pledge of Allegiance.
The three flybys at last week’s dedication, the last one in the missing man formation, were flown by the Blackjack Squadron led by Birdman Jim Sickler with member Lee Harmon breaking out to signify the missing man.