Learning to Fly on the Cheap

P1060733Most college students spend their time contending with homework, squeezing in social events, and maybe playing intramural sports. But the students of the OSU Flying Club have another goal for their college days: getting their pilot’s license.

The Oregon State University Flying Club was started in 1942 and incorporated in 1956. The membership varies between 50 and 100 people, and there are currently three aircraft in the club’s fleet. OSU students, alumni, faculty, staff, and their family members are able to take lessons to pass their private pilot’s license, and fly the fleet’s airplanes at around 80 percent of market price.

Josh Wilcox, the club’s student president, says he appreciates “Being able to spend time with like-minded students,” and the fact that “It’s actually affordable as a student.” He also says the club’s setup, where members pay reduced monthly dues if they aren’t flying during a busy term, is particularly helpful for students’ schedules.

Currently the club has 112 members, about 25 of whom are students. The minimum age to start taking lessons is 15, and people must be 17 to get their license. Board member Thomas Lindner reports, “We have pilots that are in their 70s and still flying.” The club estimates a total cost of $5,350 to get a license, most of which results from the cost of required flying time. Monthly membership dues are $39 and cover upkeep of the aircraft. Renting the various aircraft ranges from $85 to $135 an hour.

Getting a pilot’s license, just like a driver’s license, requires passing a written exam and a practical test, and accumulating practice hours. Forty hours of flight time are required for the private pilot’s license. Wilcox says, “The certification process is significantly harder than getting a driver’s license. But it’s not so difficult that if you’re willing to put in the work, you can’t do it. It’s attainable for anyone interested. I was surprised the first time I took the controls how easy it is to fly the plane.”

planesidebarCollin ChowHoy, the club’s most recent member, was about to go on his first flight the day that I visited the airport. He’s going to try to get his license before graduating from OSU in June. When asked how long he’s been interested in flying, he says “Since before I was born!” He says he’s not feeling nervous, but “Ready to spread my wings, finally.”

ChowHoy and his flight instructor inspect the small Cessna aircraft before departure. The Flying Club places a lot of emphasis on safety. The instructors employed by Corvallis Aero Service are all commercial pilots who have received additional training and hold an FAA instruction license. Pilots must go through a proficiency check every six months, and every two years they complete an FAA-mandated flight review. Jerry Anderson, a 1985 Oregon State alum, just completed his biannual review with flight instructor Richard Whelden. Says Anderson, “It’s a great opportunity for people affiliated with OSU to learn how to fly, and get flying time if they’re already a pilot.” Whelden agrees, pointing to the aircraft: “Where else are you going to find a plane this nice? They’ve got the best aircraft around for very competitive rates, and it’s just a great group of people who belong to the club.”

The club will offer an open house during OSU Mom’s Weekend on Saturday, May 3 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. For a $20 donation people can fly over the campus area in one of the club’s planes, and the club’s aircraft will also be on display at the Corvallis airport.

For more information, visit http://flying.oregonstate.edu/.

By Bethany Carlson