It’s no surprise that I’m a big believer in flying clubs. After all, it was a flying club that got me back in the air when funds were tight.
I bought my first airplane—a Cessna 150—in the late 1970s, and I loved it. But by the early 1980s, my wife Vickie and I had decided to start a family. If you have children, you know they change everything, often in ways you don’t expect and can’t prepare for. Suddenly, my time was not my own and I just couldn’t afford to hang on to my airplane.
It was a sad day when I sold the little Cessna. I even stopped flying for a while. But I knew I couldn’t stand to be grounded forever. Enter the Tailwinds Flying Club in Lake Elmo, Minnesota.
For about $1,500 I became a member and had access to three great Pipers—a Warrior, an Archer, and an Arrow. Not only was the club an economical way to fly, it also gave me access to planes that were more capable, and more roomy, than my old 150.
And I took full advantage of everything the club had to offer. At that time, the club used an answering service to schedule by phone—progressive for its day—and I routinely took the airplanes out for fun, proficiency, and transportation.
I even used the Archer to commute from Minnesota to Kansas City for my job. Without that club, I would have had to uproot my family and leave my community. With the club, I had the pleasure of flying myself back and forth each week and being able to keep my career moving forward without taking my wife and kids away from the home they loved. Talk about a win-win.
I often took the family out to the airport to fly with me or just enjoy the airplanes. And the club’s monthly “airplane wash” was a great opportunity to keep the planes looking good and enjoy the company of my fellow pilots and their families as well. We were all committed to flying and to taking care of the airplanes—we even built a hangar together.
In 1989, my work took me to Florida—too far to commute in an Archer. And this time the whole family made the move. I gave up my Tailwinds membership, but the experience had made a big impression.
Tailwinds is still around and going strong. These days they have a Cirrus SR20, and two Pipers—an Archer II and Cherokee Six. They still do monthly plane washes, too. And, it’s still an affordable way to fly. Today, it costs about $5,900 to buy in to the club. Another $580 a month covers dues and seven hours in the Cherokee Six. Not bad when you compare it to the cost of renting or sole ownership.
Every club is a little different, and costs vary depending on where you live and what types of planes your local club owns. But the basics haven’t changed—flying clubs are still a cost-effective way to fly and enjoy the company of your fellow aviators.
Not enough pilots know about the benefits of joining a flying club, and even those who do sometimes have trouble tracking down a club that will meet their needs. My own experience tells me that thousands of pilots are looking for a better, more affordable way to fly—and clubs can be the answer. That’s why all of us at AOPA are committed to strengthening the 470 clubs in AOPA’s Flying Club Network. We want to help pilots connect to clubs in their area, or even start their own. I have personally experienced the benefits of membership, and I want to make sure pilots everywhere have the opportunity to do the same.