by Mark Baker
AOPA President & CEO
Published in Midwest Flyer – June/July 2019 issue
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.
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 provide a wonderful opportunity to begin your aviation adventure. Clubs often organize weekend fly-outs and getaways to grass 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.
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.
AOPA’s flying club initiative also has free resources for those searching for local clubs, including the Flying Club Finder at https://www.aopa.org/community/flying-clubs. 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 Barnstormers.com, 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.