Since 1967, the Robins Aero Club at Georgia’s Robins Air Force Base has been teaching student pilots and offering camaraderie for military families and civilian personnel that work at the facility. In an effort to keep the club operating, it is opening membership to local residents.
The Air Force, with all its budget cuts, has been looking for costs to eliminate, said club manager Skip Piper. “All the Air Force aero clubs are non-appropriated funds, so we only exist by our membership,” he said.
The club has 75 members. “The decision to open up membership to the general public is part of the Air Force’s P4 Initiative, where the military actively pursues joint ventures with businesses and civilians off base,” he said. “We do background checks on those who want to join the Aero Club for flight school and to get their private pilot certificate.”
Piper has worked with local media to spread the news of broader membership. “I just did a story with WMAZ-TV about the club that will air on Sept. 25,” he said. For a reasonable price, civilian members can “come on base, take our ground school and complete hours in our training syllabus to obtain a private pilot certificate. After that, they can get their instrument and commercial ratings.”
The club has five Piper aircraft—four Warriors and a Piper Arrow, which is used for instrument and commercial ratings, said Piper. The Warriors rent for $100 an hour, while the Arrow is $130 an hour (wet rates, based on Hobbs time). “If you walked in from day one to getting your certificate, the cost will be about $6,000 on average,” he said.
Members wanting to learn to fly have access to six flight instructors under contract and an instructor who only does ground school, said Piper. There are six students enrolled now, he added.
Other club events include supporting the local Experimental Aircraft Association chapter breakfast fly-ins, a yearly open house at Robins Air Force Base Airport, and discovery flights, said Piper. “We also support groups like the ROTC and the Cub Scouts. We offer a brief ground school and do a 30-minute flight if the organization can pay for it,” he said.