By Michael Golembesky
21st Space Wing Public Affairs staff writer
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Freedom, a new challenge, checking an item off your bucket list, or perhaps the thrill of soaring with the birds; learning to fly can mean many different things but the Peterson Aero Club is here to help you find that meaning.
The Rocky Mountain U.S. Air Force Flight Training Center, also known as the Peterson Aero Club, started in 1951 and was one the first clubs of its kind. It has been operating for more than 60 years with an amazing track record.
“Peterson’s Flight Training Center is one of the very best aero clubs in the Air Force and one of the best flight training schools in the world,” said Donald “Greg” Cortum, aero club manager and flying enthusiast.
No matter if you are just learning to fly as a hobby or if you are looking to pursue a career as a pilot, the aero club flight school has the facilities, planes and instructors to make it happen.
“Anyone who, as a little kid, looked at an airplane and thought it was the coolest thing they had ever seen — those are the people who have the strongest desire to learn,” said Chris Walker, flight instructor. “We have a handful of really young students, 16 year olds, which is as young as you can be to get a student’s pilot license; all the way up to people who have retired from their flight careers and are just looking to have fun.”
“We are also approved for (Veterans Affairs), so a lot of people use their VA benefits to get their instruments, commercial certificates or whatever they want to do,” said Cortum.
With more than 200 club members, the Pete Aero Club has made a strong comeback from just five years ago when it was struggling financially to stay afloat and was running the risk of being shutdown like many of the other clubs around the country.
“The aero club is one of the many benefits available to Team Pete,” said Col. John Shaw, 21st Space Wing commander, private pilot and aero club member. “To have aircraft available to rent, at a reasonable price, in your own back yard, plus instructors available to teach you to fly. That’s just a rare and excellent opportunity.”
The club stays busy, and demand sometimes exceeds supply.
“Last month we had more business than we had instructors. I have 15 flight instructors and I couldn’t keep up with the number of students,” Cortum said. “We get a lot of people who are retiring and want to go work for the airlines. About half of our members are in a course working toward some type of certificate, while the other half just want to fly.”
Another benefit the aero club offers is personalized transportation. If you already have your pilot’s license, you can rent a plane from the aero club and set out into the blue skies.
“You can rent one of the airplanes and go (on a temporary duty assignment), go anywhere you want in the lower 48 states. You pay us for the dry rate of the airplane — minus fuel — for maintenance cost and you buy your fuel along the way,” said Greg. “You can rent a small airplane, put four people in it, go to your destination and back for about a quarter of the cost that the airlines would charge you.”
Students working toward their pilot license are setup for success from the very beginning, walked through the entire course by a staff of experienced instructors and aviators.
“We have about six to 12 new students here every six weeks. The cost of the eight-week ground school includes the kit, all of the books, everything you need to start flying,” Cortum said. “After completing the ground school you can take the FAA written exam. You need a 70 percent or higher to pass; we don’t let our students take it until they can easily score a 90 or better.”
The instructors have a wealth of experience and pass it along to the students.
“The level of experienced pilot instructors here is extremely high, the experience, (and) the professionalism,” said Joshua Trickey, flight instructor, former Army Apache helicopter pilot and former student at the Rocky Mountain Flight Training Center. “Many bring the integrity of military flight training to a civilian system of flight training; it’s the best of both worlds.”
After students pass their FAA exam, all that is left is to acquire their instructor-supervised flight hours. Students have up to two years to log anywhere from 50-55 flight hours before they can take their final exam. This is about 20 hours less than the national average because of the excellent structuring of the course and quality of the instructors.
“My job is to make you a good pilot, a safe pilot,” said Trickey.
“Once our chief instructor or assistant chief says (the student is) good to go, then we schedule your check-ride with a designated FAA rep. They will come here, give the student an oral exam and go flying with them for about an hour and a half, come back and issue the license right there,” Cortum said. “Once you have your license, it’s good for life.”
It may seem like a lot of work and time to obtain your pilot license, but a small price to pay for the ability to fly.
For more information about the aero club, call 556-4310 or go to http://www.21fss.com/about/aero-club/.