ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Aspiring pilots dont need to join the Air Force to soar into the wild blue yonder from Robins runway.
For 47 years, the Aero Club at the base has given civilian employees and military members a chance to get their pilots license. Now the service is being opened to the general public.
Lewayne Davis, the chief flight instructor, said the Aero Club is a recreational opportunity at the base, similar to the golf course and bowling alley. And just like any other recreational service, the club is expected to pay its own operational costs through user fees.
With the economic downturn in recent years, he said, the number of people willing to put the time and money into learning to fly has fallen off. The hope is to draw more students from outside the base and boost revenue.
Although it can vary, Davis tells prospective students to plan on spending $6,000 to get a license, which he said is cheaper than off base. That includes the ground school and the airplane, which costs $100 per hour for a minimum of 35 hours needed to get the license.
About half the people who sign up for the training end up dropping out, usually because they dont have the money or time to finish, said Davis, who has been teaching at the base since 1970. He said he has never lost a student because they simply couldnt get the hang of flying.
Its actually the easiest thing in the world, he said. Physically, flying the airplane is the easiest thing a person can do, but the knowledge you must have to work in the air traffic system requires a great deal more knowledge than driving a car.
One of his students is 18-year-old Trevor Juneau, whose father served in the Air Force at Robins. Juneau has already completed his solo flight and is now preparing to test for his license, which involves flying with an examiner licensed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
He said he has enjoyed the training and hopes to become an Air Force pilot and maybe a commercial pilot eventually. He currently attends Georgia Military College in Warner Robins.
Its been amazing, he said of the training, but he also added, Its been a lot more complicated than I thought it would be.
Opening the flying opportunity to the public is part of a larger effort to cut costs at the base by partnering with the community. There also is a plan to let Middle Georgia State Colleges School of Aviation give pilot training at the base. Davis said thats still in the works, but it has been delayed due to issues about liability if the school used the Aero Clubs planes.
The clubs planes are Piper Warriors and can be seen from Ga. 247 at the north end of the base. The planes are available for rent to a licensed pilot for $100 per hour.
Most large Air Force bases have a similar club for private pilots. Its an important service to offer, said Davis, who has trained a wide variety of people to fly, including many of the bases aircraft mechanics.
They are in the Air Force, he said. We are flying airplanes. Why shouldnt everybody get a chance to fly airplanes if you are in the Air Force?
For people outside the base who want to take pilot training at Robins, the first thing they need to do is get a security clearance so they can get on base. For that, they can contact Kent Jenkins, chief of the Community Services Flight in the 78th Force Support Squadron. His phone number is 478-327-5915, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
To contact writer Wayne Crenshaw, 256-9725.