The Wright-Patterson Aero Club is easy to overlook at the sprawling U.S. Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio, that’s known for its unparalleled museum and rich aviation history dating back to the Wright brothers.
But the 300-member flying club there has long been a prolific producer of general aviation pilots, and the club is growing and adding new aircraft despite hard economic times for much of the GA industry.
“Our students are earning new ratings at a pace of about two a month,” said Ben Schleis, 34, an Air Force master sergeant, aero club volunteer, and owner of a Grumman Cougar that he leases to the club for multiengine training. “Some are young airmen seeking commissions with a goal of military flying, some want to fly for the airlines, some are military pilots who enjoy GA or use GA for business travel, and some, like me, just love flying.”
Schlies is a commercial/multiengine pilot with about 700 flying hours and is pursuing flight instructor ratings.
“I’ve got an infectious disease known as flying,” he quipped. “I plan to be a CFI full time when I retire from the military in a few years.”
The FAA Part 141 club owns a dozen training aircraft ranging from Piper Warriors to Schleis’s Cougar. Almost all are IFR equipped, and students earn FAA certificates ranging from private to ATP. Some of the club’s 20 instructors also teach formation flying, and the group is planning to acquire an aerobatic trainer and add unusual-attitude and tailwheel instruction.
The club’s airplanes account for about 70 percent of the takeoffs and landings at Wright-Patterson and typically fly about 450 hours a month, Schlies said. The base has ILS, RNAV, and GPS approaches which make it an excellent place for instrument instruction.
Students pay $35 to join the club, and rental rates are typically about 20 percent lower than civilian flight schools. Membership is limited to military members, their spouses or dependents, and government workers or contractors.
The club pays no rent on its hangar/office facility, an orange-and-white building between the two runways that served during the Cold War as an alert facility for F-104 interceptors.
The club arranges fly-outs and social events, and members share the chores of cleaning the hangars, offices, and aircraft fleet.
“It’s a good bunch of people with a wide variety of flying experience,” Schlies said. “Some flew combat in Vietnam, and others are brand new to aviation. I wouldn’t have been able to buy my airplane without the club, and the club has allowed many, many people to become GA pilots and aircraft owners over the years. Even though we’re on an Air Force base, we’re extremely good for GA.”