Oh, sure, your CFI was a great resource and helpful, but she moved onto the next student as soon as your ticket was stamped. You have a license to fly, but few to share it with. You can’t yet buy your own aircraft, so you’re left in a queue waiting for aircraft availability. What to do?
Join a flying club. Take it from AOPA You Can Fly Flying Clubs Director Steve Bateman, who has helped form nearly 200 clubs since 2014: “Flying clubs allow you to own your aviation journey through cost sharing and enjoying the company and camaraderie of like-minded people.”
About a year ago my only aviation friend was my CFI,” said Peter Sandor, a physician’s assistant in a surgical trauma center and assistant professor at Quinnipiac University. “I looked around and found 43rd Aviation. It seemed too good to be true; I can fly a nicer Piper than what I utilized for training at one third of the price. And in just three months, I have 10 pilot friends with various levels of experience who I can call on to ask questions.”
Sandor is a member of 43rd Aviation, a flying club based at Hartford-Brainard Airport (HFD) in Hartford, Connecticut (43rdaviation.com). The club has been around since 1962, and while it’s an older club, it’s been going through a rebirth recently. Its 35-plus members think of the 43rd as new.
The mentorship, camaraderie, and educational experience is better than I could have imagined. The teaching moments, the meetings—even shoveling snow, this is rally a 'club'.“The whole history is kind of fuzzy; it’s not what we are about,” said President Scott McRae. “At the club’s height in 1998 it had 42 members and three aircraft. But we got too conservative. We had to change.”
The energized club members made the radical decision to sell one of its aircraft—a Mooney M20J—and used the proceeds to pay off the club’s other two aircraft, a 1998 Piper Archer III and a 1975 Cessna Skylane. That helped reduce dues and hourly rates. And marketing efforts by Frank Campanelli, a residential painting contractor and instrument pilot with 850 hours, changed the mindset too.
“Our philosophy was too conservative, we had no staying power and no marketing function,” he said. “There are three other clubs here [at Brainard], but this is the most successful, least contentious, and most professional. It’s just some birdmen getting together.”
Low rates and aircraft availability—as well as a strong, goes-without-saying safety mindset—brought the club members together, but it was the friendships that solidified the club. “I am the luckiest guy to find such great people,” said Sandor, who cites the fly-outs, airplane washes, and social activities as key to the club’s success. “The mentorship, camaraderie, and educational experience is better than I could have imagined. The teaching moments, the meetings—even shoveling snow, this is really a ‘club.’”
The club has four instructors, a tight budget, and maintenance facilities on site. New members undergo a VFR checkout and are interviewed for how safe they are and their decision-making skills. “We’ve turned some people down and we have a tight rein, but our overall guide is to treat each other well,” said McRae. “I look to flying for the therapy aspect—the aircraft is a freedom machine. We are all in the present moment.”
And lest you think it’s all fun and no hardware, the club is shopping for a Piper Saratoga to add to its fleet.
In just one quick year, a flying club in Manassas, Virginia, has turned the club concept on its head. Two energetic Type-A men were introduced to one another over a shared desire to start a flying club. With the help of AOPA’s Flying Clubs team, led by Bateman, Mike Webb and Sam Meek met, formed a friendship, and formed a club. Flywyld (flywyld.com) at the Manassas Regional Airport (HEF) now has 30 members and a fleet of three aircraft. The founders also opened a maintenance shop, which services the club’s fleet. And they’ve forged a bond that looks like a lifelong friendship, not one just a few years old.
Meek is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who runs a company called Sandboxx, which helps members of the armed forces assimilate to military life and also to exit. Webb is a chief petty officer in the U.S. Navy and a member of the Sea Chanters, the U.S. Navy official chorus. Both fell in love with flying in their thirties and have accumulated ratings and airplanes in record time. Meek used his G.I. Bill benefits to start pilot training. He has commercial single- and multiengine certificates, a seaplane rating, a tailwheel endorsement, an instrument rating, and 850 hours. He owns a Piper Lance that the club uses and has several other aircraft. Webb is a CFI and multiengine instructor—ratings all earned since he started training in 2017. He has approximately 695 hours total time and also owns several aircraft that he leases to the club.
When airplanes are AOA, I think about the missed opportunities for our members. It really breaks my heart. Darrin and his team are working 24/7 to keep our birds sky worthy for our aviatiors.When the two met, they agreed that in addition to a culture of fun and acceptance, safety and availability of aircraft were more important than inexpensive pricing and to that end were concerned with the maintenance of club aircraft. Maintaining club aircraft is one of the challenges of flying clubs; aircraft often get into a queue waiting at maintenance shops and then are not available to members. Meek and Webb met A&P/IA Darrin Rimbey at a local aviation shop and the U.S. Marine Corps veteran is tailormade for the fun-loving group. The group co-founded the Flywyld maintenance shop in a hangar at Manassas Regional Airport.
“Those of us who own and lease the aircraft to the club absolutely love knowing our sky machines are making smiles and unforgettable memories,” said Meek. “When airplanes are AOG, I think about the missed opportunities for our members. It truly breaks my heart. Darrin and his team are working 24/7 to keep our birds sky worthy for our aviators.”
A recent experience showed that value: Webb was to take one of the club’s student pilots (they accept just a few) up for his check flight, but the aircraft was displaying issues that concerned Webb. He asked Rimbey’s team to quickly look at the airplane. Within 20 minutes the minor squawk was addressed, and the aircraft was airworthy. “And he [the student] passed,” Webb said.
“Although our priority is servicing our club aircraft, we are booked solid with work from other general aviation customers,” said Rimbey. “We do our very best to keep the club aircraft airworthy; sometimes that is not always possible. My least favorite part is having to inform the members that the aircraft may not be airworthy for a period of time.”
“My favorite part of the club has been meeting each member as they consider joining. I love sharing Flywyld’s vision and seeing eyes light up when they realize that, yes, they want more from a club than just cheap flying,” said Webb. “We may not be for everyone, but we certainly are a destination for passionate pilots who are looking to share their love of aviation with others. Witnessing those moments when we come together, share a great flying experience, and learn from each other is very rewarding.”
Read more about Flywyld and other inspirational clubs in AOPA’s Club Connector newsletter (youcanfly.aopa.org/flying-clubs/flying-club-newsletter).