Before you turn away, a dozen aircraft have touched down, then two dozen. It’s not unheard of for a Cub to be parked next to an Eclipse jet, which sits near a P–51. All arrived for the same reason, filled with pilots and passengers who willingly, eagerly, self-identify as members of the Old Farts Flying Club.
Most members of this organization of pilots and aviation enthusiasts hail from South Florida, but there are few rules and no set boundaries. They are casually led by Roger Brown, who eschews titles and superlatives. Brown simply says, “I do everything,” when it comes to organization and management of the club, although he’s quick to point out that a cadre of volunteers make themselves available to handle the grunt work when a fly-out is on the calendar. Other than that, “It’s just me and an iPad,” he says.
Participating in fly-outs is the whole point of being a member of the Old Farts. “My biggest one to date was about 70 airplanes with 150 people,” says Brown. Their destination that day was the Sun ’n Fun campus in Lakeland, Florida. After lunch the group traveled down the field to tour the NOAA hurricane hunter facilities and hear what it takes to penetrate the eye walls of some of the biggest storms to make landfall.
During the fall and winter months, and into the early spring, the Old Farts fly out every Thursday. A destination is selected. Emails are sent. If it’s a catered event a price is set, and an RSVP is requested. That’s pretty much it. “There are no dues,” Brown says. “No initiation.” To become a member you simply send an email asking to be included in the club’s communications. That’s all there is to it. You’re in. As a full-fledged member all you have to do is accept an occasional invitation to fly-out with the club, tell Brown how many you’ll have in your party, and show up.
The bigger fly-outs are catered affairs because of the number of members participating. “We set a flat rate,” Brown says. “Anywhere between $10 and $20. We just have somebody taking money at the front of the food line.”
Smaller fly-outs focus their attention on airports with an on-site restaurant or an interesting group that has access to hamburgers and a grill. Sebring, Winter Haven, the Wellington Aero Club, and EAA Chapter 565 in Punta Gorda have all been popular sites recently.
Brown tends to arrive early, often piloting his Stearman, unless the brutal winter chill in Florida drives him into a fellow club member’s fully enclosed airplane. He takes pictures, chats with attendees, and writes up a recap of the event that he distributes in an online newsletter. Each one closes with a gracious valediction encouraging members to watch for whatever is coming up next, and is signed, simply enough, Old Fart Roger.
AOPA’s You Can Fly program supports flying clubs, encourages best practices in flight training, gets lapsed pilots back in the air, brings AOPA’s resources and expertise to pilot groups across the country, and helps high school students learn more about careers in aviation. AOPA’s You Can Fly program and the AOPA Air Safety Institute are funded by charitable donations to the AOPA Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization.