Thursday, September 25, 2014

Behind the Lines: Novices fly at Robins Aero Club

As of about a month ago, just about anyone with a pilot's license can do it. People can earn one at the Robins Aero Club.

It's not just the Air Force flying planes out of Robins anymore.

As of about a month ago, just about anyone with a pilot's license can do it. People can earn one at the Robins Aero Club.

13WMAZ went Behind the Lines to meet the instructors putting people from outside the base gates, inside the pilot's seat.

Skip Piper runs the Aero Club. His is the voice on the end of the line, when potential pilots call for information.

The place, located near the flight line, feels a lot like the name states: A club, one that brews coffee instead of beer.

Piper said, "You have membership camaraderie."

Last month, it's exclusive requirements to join vastly expanded. Piper said, "We just got the approval to open the base up to civilians."

By civilians, he means the general public. They can apply for special permission to get on the base, and earn a pilot's license.
Piper said, "That's a very big deal."

From the mid-1960's until now, the club's doors opened only to folks with base access.

They now welcome outsiders like Walt Alexander. He's an air traffic controller at the Macon-Bibb airport.

Alexander completed seven weeks of ground school classes at the club.

With no prior experience, he's now logging hours in the cockpit.

55-year-old Alexander said, "This was on the bucket list of things to do."

Hugh Holloway, a flight instructor since '69, warned him: Aviation's a high. Holloway said, "Flying is like taking dope. If you get started and want to quit, you gotta get detoxed."

Holloway started coaching Alexander from his first flight.

Alexander said, "When the wheels came up for the first time, I was like, its now or never."

They pair have made about a dozen journeys into the sky together. Holloway said, "It's a lot of people's dreams to be flying."

After another dozen take-offs or so, Alexander will go the controls without Holloway by his side.

Alexander said, "In this game, there is no fudging the rules."

Mistakes in the sky clearly matter, but with the right teacher, he said, "Anybody can do it."

It's like Piper says, "Flying an airplane is easier than driving a car."

Then again, he is the one standing on the ground. Piper said, "Do I fly? No, I don't."

Piper prefers managing the club and maintaining the planes. He keeps the pilots, professional and novice, soaring above the base.

Getting a private pilot's license will cost about $6,000 at Robins Aero Club.

It takes most people about a year to get through the program, and pass the Federal Aviation Administration tests.

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