Aero Club offers adventure, fun in the friendly skies
By Steve Warns, Air Force Civil Engineer Center Public Affairs
/ Published June 22, 2017
JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS) -- Aero clubs have played a significant role in building and sustaining ready and resilient Airmen almost since the U.S. Air Force was founded in 1947.
Gen. Curtis LeMay, the first commander of Strategic Air Command and later the fifth chief of staff of the Air Force, was known for ‘management by wandering’ at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska, said Eric Treland, the Air Force Aero Club program manager. One night on a walk, the general saw a light on in a hangar, where he found young Airmen restoring a light airplane.
“He was a man who always liked anything mechanical,” Treland said. “He looked at what they were doing, and he knew the importance of flight. He said, ‘If we’re going to do this, let’s do this right.’ In 1950, he sanctioned the first official Aero Club at Offutt AFB, which is now called the LeMay Aero Club.”
Almost 70 years later, Air Force aero clubs, under the direction of the Air Force Services Activity, are operating at 16 installations worldwide.
“It’s a great opportunity to learn and fly general aviation aircraft in a military environment, where the safety record exceeds the general aviation world,” said Maj. Derrick Hodges, the AFSVA’s aero operations and safety club director. “We have great facilities, great instructors, great people and most importantly, it’s a family environment. We truly do take care of each other in aero clubs to make sure everyone has a great time flying and learning about aviation.”
Aero clubs are open to active duty, reserve, guard and retired military members and their families; Defense Department civilians; and Civil Air Patrol members. Members must be 16 years old and have a medical certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration to fly solo.
Members with no flight experience may earn a private pilot certificate in as few as six to seven months. Aero club costs vary by installation and could range between $5,000-$12,000, based on time commitment, type of aircraft and fuel costs, Treland said. Members will pilot light general aviation aircraft.
Training is divided into ground and flight school. Members can complete the ground school in the classroom or online. The private pilot flight school consists of a minimum of 35 hours of flight training 20 hours with an instructor and 15 hours solo.
“Members of the aero club are those who want to fly,” Treland added. “They’re passionate about aviation. It helps them understand the Air Force mission of Fly, Fight and Win in Air, Space and Cyberspace, and it helps many of them relate directly to their mission.”
Hodges saw the benefits of aero clubs firsthand when he was stationed at Yokota Air Base, Japan. “It gave our young Airmen, who already were flyers in C-130s, but didn’t hold pilot positions, an opportunity to enjoy their love of aviation by flying in one of our Cessnas,” he said. “(The base has) really good airplanes and it is a really safe environment for enlisted crew members to learn to fly and gain a pilot’s perspective.”
“They also offered night flights over Tokyo for $99, and on a moonlit night, you could see Mount Fuji. I thought that was totally awesome,” he added.
Hodges also saw how the Yokota Aero Club strengthened the four pillars of Comprehensive Airman Fitness: physical, mental, social and spiritual. “The mental and spiritual portion really sticks out for me,” Hodges said. “It’s a chance for them to just release and get to do something that’s a stress reliever. We work extremely hard during the week, and just to go out and do something stress-free like fly an airplane reinforces the benefits of Comprehensive Airman Fitness. It’s a wonderful thing to get airborne and soar like a bird.”
Since aero clubs are non-appropriated fund activities, they generate revenue to support themselves. “Our patrons pay for it, and as long as the installations provide support for their aero clubs, they will take care of themselves,” Hodges said. “Every base should have an aero club because of what it brings to our Airmen and their families - the opportunity to fly in a safe environment for a good price.”
To find out if your installation offers an aero club, visit MyAirForceLife.com.