Personal Recollections By Jon Proctor
Early in 1977, the late Paul Collins, founder and self-appointed President of the World Airline Hobby Club, decided to have a little get-together. A loosely organized fraternity of airline and airliner enthusiasts, the two-year-old club was informally held together by its quarterly journal, THE CAPTAINS LOG. Collins sent out notices and advertised in the log for a proposed airliner show to be held that July at a hotel adjacent to Cincinnati Airport. “About 60 people showed up,” recalled Collins. “And we had a pretty good time, swapping and displaying airline memorabilia. None of us back then had any idea of what we were starting.”
From that meager beginning evolved “Airliners International,” a yearly convention that has become the “Super Bowl” of enthusiast shows for those in search of every imaginable form of air transport aeronautica. Bought, sold, traded, and on display are a myriad of airliner photos, postcards, slides, videos and models plus the more traditional airline collectibles like swizzle sticks, playing cards, luggage tags and stickers, timetables, kiddy wings, china, glass and silverware, menus, uniforms, and badges, books, in-flight magazines, brochures, advertisements, manuals, signs. Even some unlikely examples such as seat pocket emergency cards and airsick bags.
The Club has grown too, and has been renamed the World Airline Historical Society, more closely recognizing its purpose. THE CAPTAINS LOG is a wealth of information on the history of commercial aviation, with columns, articles, and research projects plus a wants and disposal section for trading among members. While many members are airline employees, there are quite a few who are not. Collins himself was working for the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad when he formed the club, and retired from its successor company, CSX Transportation.
In order to get a bigger draw for the first gathering, members of the Ontario (Canada) Aviation Enthusiasts were invited to attend, and several of that group offered to host another show in Toronto the following summer. But from that point on attendees began voting for future site locations, usually at a hotel close to the airport. Airliners International became the official name a few years later and matured into a three-day affair beginning on a Thursday in June or July, open by a Cocktail Party hosted by President Paul Collins and the Society.
Fully registered attendees enjoy an exclusive session in the huge display hall Thursday afternoon, where exhibitors put out their wares for all to see. On Friday the hall is open to the public as well, and the room quickly fills with those eager to buy, sell, or trade their specialties, which to the layman might have been relegated to the attic, or garbage long ago. Little do some realize that the old plastic model airliner kit bought in the late 1950s for $1.98 can now bring in excess of $200.00, provided it is in mint condition and still in the originally packing box unassembled.
Throughout the hall, one can enjoy pursuing the history of commercial aviation in hundreds of different forms. As trading and selling picks up steam, continuous slide and video shows begin in adjoining meeting rooms, while entries for model, slide, and photo contests are logged in and put on display. Outside busses begin loading for tours of local airline-related attractions such as museums, airline training and maintenance centers, and airport photo tours. (In recent years tours have been scheduled earlier in the convention week to accommodate additional customers). The real hardcore trader remains in the hotel, not wanting to pass up on further transactions. The display hall remains open throughout the day, closing at dinnertime to allow vendors a short break. Friday evenings can be unstructured, except for the Airliner Slide Auction, which can be quite spirited among the photographers and collectors.
Saturday Morning we gather together for the official business meeting, at the start of the day. There is but one item on the agenda: future site selection. Club members make pitches for each of the candidate cities, followed by a brief question and answer session; balloting follows by mail. As convention size and necessary planning time increased, the policy of voting two years in advance was adopted.
A good deal of walk-in traffic appears on Saturday; visitors learn of the convention through the media and hobby outlets. Contest judging commences; slide shows continue and in the trenches, last-minute specials are offered by vendors. The challenge for the vendors now is to try to go home with less merchandise than they brought. By now, most have accumulated equal or greater amounts, including a souvenir bag provided by the registration and containing numerous handouts, plus a convention program and official logo baggage sticker.
Deals are offered, usually by those who don’t want to carry home items they brought. By now, most have accumulated equal or greater amounts, including a souvenir bag provided by the registration and containing numerous handouts plus a convention program and official logo baggage sticker.
Everyone cleans up on Saturday evening up for the awards banquet, highlighted by the announcement of contest winners, and a guest speaker. Also featured are door prize drawings and some unique competitions. During the “Name the Plane” event, images are projected, showing minute portions of airliners, often taken from within the aircraft, to test the expertise of the most enthusiastic buffs. The winner generally gets around 14 of 20 correct, a respectable score in view of the fact that some images only show the very tip of a wing or an aircraft’s shadow outline. The written trivia quiz follows, a mind-bender conducted while dinner is being served.
The banquet’s conclusion marks the end of another convention and can be a bit of a letdown. “People really get into it here,” said a regular attendee. “It’s easy to get depressed afterward, realizing you’ve got to wait another year for the big one!” (As a spin-off from Airliners International, local groups stage similar but smaller shows throughout the year, which provides some relief).
By Sunday morning, most everyone scatters to the Four Corners of the world. However, a select group remains, briefly, for breakfast together. Delegates who have attended every convention (only two people still qualify) join past, present and future hosts and hostesses to toast those who have worked so hard to make it happen. Then they too disperse and Airliners International finally closes out.
Airliners International Conventions
- 1977 – Cincinnati, Ohio
- 1978 – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- 1979 – Dallas, Texas
- 1980 – Detroit, Michigan
- 1981 – Miami, Florida
- 1982 – Newport Beach, California
- 1983 – Washington, DC
- 1984 – St. Louis, Missouri
- 1985 – San Jose, California
- 1986 – Hartford, Connecticut
- 1987 – Indianapolis, Indiana
- 1988 – Denver, Colorado
- 1989 – Toronto, Ontario, Canada
- 1990 – Seattle, Washington
- 1991 – Orlando, Florida
- 1992 – Orange County, California
- 1993 – Washington, DC
- 1994 – Atlanta, Georgia
- 1995 – Phoenix, Arizona
- 1996 – Minneapolis, Minnesota
- 1997 – Colorado Springs, Colorado
- 1998 – Seattle, Washington
- 1999 – St. Louis, Missouri
- 2000 – Phoenix, Arizona
- 2001 – Miami, Florida
- 2002 – Houston, Texas
- 2003 – Columbus, Ohio
- 2004 – Los Angeles, California
- 2005 – Milwaukee, Wisconsin
- 2006 – Washington, D.C.
- 2007 – Kansas City, Missouri
- 2008 – Dallas Texas
- 2009 – Orlando, Florida
- 2010 – Newark, New Jersey
- 2011 – Portland, Oregon
- 2012 – Memphis, Tennessee
- 2013 – Cleveland, Ohio
- 2014 – Los Angeles, California
- 2015 – Atlanta, Georgia
- 2016 – New Orleans, Louisiana
- 2017 – Denver, Colorado
- 2018 – Washington, D.C.
- 2019 – Atlanta, Georgia
- 2020 – Phoenix, Arizona-Postponed to 2021 due to Covid-19 pandemic
- 2021 – Phoenix, Arizona
- 2022 – Chicago, Illinois
- 2023 – TBD
For a more detailed description of each convention, follow this link to airlinersinternational.org