November 1, 2012
By Dave Hirschman
The arid, windswept desert of Afghanistan is a supremely unlikely place for an FAA private pilot ground school.
U.S. Marine Capt. Gabriel “Gabe” Glinsky, a V–22 Osprey pilot and former civilian flight instructor, saw that many young Marines in his squadron were interested in learning to fly. So while deployed there in 2009 and 2010, he organized and taught a class of 20 students in a tent at a remote forward operating base—and several graduates have since become private pilots.
Now Glinsky is back in the United States (although he’s preparing to return to Afghanistan) and recently formed a club for current and former members of the military designed to help them become pilots. “Warriors to Wings” is meant to lower cost barriers, build on the Marines’ one-for-all and all-for-one ethos, and make flying a fun, social activity.
“Many military bases used to have active aero clubs, but not anymore,” said Glinsky, who is based in North Carolina and owns a 1967 Piper Cherokee 180. “By forming our own club, we can do what military flying clubs used to do. And with our members’ skill and willingness to pitch in, we can keep costs way down.”
Glinsky and fellow Marine Steve Turner, also a CFI, recently held Warriors to Wings’ first public meeting at Henderson Field Airport in Wallace, North Carolina, and about 20 people from the nearby Marine Corps Air Station New River attended.
They were fed pork sandwiches and got free introductory flights in Glinsky’s Cherokee as well as a Cessna 172 and a Robinson R44 helicopter owned and flown by Ken McGee of Wilmington, North Carolina.
Turner has a degree in aviation management from Southern Illinois University and ran a Part 135 operation before joining the Marines. He doesn’t fly in the service but keeps his CFI and other ratings current.
Turner is getting ready to ship out to Afghanistan and is busy preparing for that year-long mission with his fellow Marines. But somehow he found time to prepare and submit the nonprofit registration form for Warriors to Wings last week as well as open a Facebook page (and he’s working on a website).
“I have no free time at all,” Turner said. “I do this at midnight because I absolutely love it.”
There are about 40,000 Marines within a 90-minute drive of Henderson Field, a nontowered general aviation airport north of Wilmington. By getting fellow Marine pilots to volunteer to teach, and military mechanics to trade their maintenance expertise for flight time, Glinsky believes he can reduce student costs to about half of the normal retail rates.
He also plans to provide a pathway for others seeking to form similar clubs at or near other military bases.
“What we’re doing here is going to be repeatable anywhere there’s a military base and no aero club,” Glinsky said. “The way we’re doing it also has a social element that’s missing in general aviation today. People aren’t going to just pay their money and walk away. They’re going to fly airplanes, maintain them, clean them, trade stories, and just have a great time learning, teaching, and being involved.”
Glinsky was awarded AOPA’s 2010 Let’s Go Flying Award for his previous efforts on behalf of his fellow Marines in Afghanistan, and Warriors to Wings builds on that foundation.
“This is something I’ve wanted to do since we finished the ground school in Afghanistan,” Glinsky said. “It’s the logical next step. I’m so pumped that it’s finally happening.”
AOPA Pilot Senior Editor Dave Hirschman joined AOPA in 2008. He has an airline transport pilot certificate and instrument and multiengine flight instructor certificates. Dave flies vintage, historical, and Experimental airplanes and specializes in tailwheel and aerobatic instruction.
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