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President's Position: The first rule of flight club

You 'do' talk about flight club

Like many new pilots, I learned to fly in an old reliable—a Cessna 150. And it’s true, you never forget your first love.

But after getting my certificate, I needed to upgrade to a four-seat piston. Tailwinds Flying Club in Lake Elmo, Minnesota, took me in, and that’s where I got my first taste of shared ownership. I had to share that piston-single with other pilots in a crowded hangar, but nonetheless, sharing her gave me some of the greatest flying times of my life.

You see, in the mid-1980s, I couldn’t afford my own airplane—but I could afford a piece of one. And whether that piece was the fuselage, wings, strut, or propeller, it was all mine and I couldn’t be more grateful for it. In many ways, that first flying club taught me some valuable lessons and gave me more than experience with shared ownership; it gave me barbecue buddies and lifelong friends.

AOPA dates back to 1939 and still embraces the same mission as it did then: to make flying safer, more fun, and more affordable. Flying clubs have a lot to do with that. While we’re called the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, not all of us are owners, and not all of us are pilots. But we all share a common sense of unity and enthusiasm for grassroots flying, linking us together in this small world we call general aviation.

Joining a flying club is the first stepping stone on a path toward aircraft ownership without all the risks and headaches that go along with it (see “Sharing Aircraft,” p. 78). From insurance policies, hangar rentals, fuel, oil, and maintenance, costs can add up quickly. For pilots, splitting these expenses is one of the best and most efficient ways to save money and still enjoy the freedom of recreational flying. Plus, sharing flying experiences with other like-minded aviators is a great way to educate yourself and become a safer pilot.

We all share a common sense of unity and enthusiasm for grassroots flying, linking us together in this small world we call general aviation.If you’re new to flying, you may be struggling with what to do and where to go once you receive your certificate. Flying clubs are a great chance to begin your aviation adventure. Clubs often organize weekend fly-outs and getaways to grassy airstrips and fun destinations. And few things in life are as satisfying as venturing to a new place, camping under the wing of your aircraft, and swapping flying stories with pilots from different backgrounds.

Sharing the cockpit with a more experienced member also is a great way to learn new skills and stay engaged. Your club might even have a fleet of aircraft for you to fly, allowing you to get a good idea of what aircraft would be right for you should solo ownership be in your future. Whatever your reason for joining, you can count on adding a few buddies to your social circle.

AOPA leads by example to showcase the fun and camaraderie of shared aircraft ownership through its Flying Clubs initiative—a key component in the You Can Fly program that helps get people flying and keep them flying. Our ambassadors, equipped with their yellow Cessna 152s and 172s, travel around to set up meetings, help start flying clubs, and conduct seminars. These are fully refurbished older aircraft that serve as examples of inexpensive and capable means of recreational flying.

AOPA Flying Clubs seminars, “Maximum Fun, Minimum Cost,” introduce pilots to the benefits and operations of starting and running flying clubs. We recently celebrated an incredible milestone at Sun ’n Fun when we recognized the 100th flying club started since the program’s inception in 2015 (see page 100).

AOPA’s flying clubs initiative also has free resources for those searching for local clubs, including the Flying Club Finder. Enter your zip code or airport ID to find nearby clubs; we have almost 1,500 clubs in our database.

The opportunities that come with being a part of a club are endless. But if you just can’t put down the classified section of Trade-A-Plane, or are seven pages deep in, solo ownership is always an option.

Today, I’m fortunate enough to have my own airplane but I still think back to my early days in that club, and I’ll never forget the memories I made and the great flying times we had. It opened so many doors for me, and it can for you, too. As always, AOPA is there to lend a helping hand, and welcome you to the club.

Email [email protected]

Mark Baker

Mark Baker

Mark Baker is AOPA’s fifth president. He is a commercial pilot with single- and multiengine land and seaplane ratings and a rotorcraft rating.

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