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Aero Club offers instruction to fliers

Chief mechanic Dean Williams of the Offutt Aero Club does repairs on a plane at the Offutt Aero Club. Mr. Williams is the only full time mechanic employed at the aero club.  (U.S. Air Force Photos by D.P. Heard)

Chief mechanic Dean Williams of the Offutt Aero Club does repairs on a plane at the Offutt Aero Club. Mr. Williams is the only full time mechanic employed at the aero club. (U.S. Air Force Photos by D.P. Heard)

OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. -- From an altitude of 2,000 feet, cars look like toys and large buildings look like something a child could put together. The air is crisp and cold as it rushes by the window of a Cessna C-172. As rain begins to fall and bounce off the aircraft, an instructor continues his lesson, teaching another would-be aviator how to fly.

The LeMay Aero Club offers self-paced private, instrument and commercial pilot training in one of their 11 different aircraft to anyone who has base access.

"We know the students need flexible hours," said Cole Weidenbusch, the LeMay Aero Club manager. "We have most of our instructors coming in for students after work hours or on weekends."

As the only flight school in Nebraska licensed with the Federal Aviation Administration with part 141 courses, club students have a leg up on other flight schools.

"Part 141 means that we're stricter in our regulations, but faster." said Weidenbusch. "A private pilot's license only takes 35 flight hours, rather than 45."

More than 100 of the aero club's 200 members are active-duty in a non-flying position. Each of these non-flyers has an opportunity to embrace a hobby in aviation that they wouldn't normally be able to pursue.

The LeMay Aero Club was built to focus on the needs of Airmen.

While surveying for a new place to put an auto hobby shop in 1950, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Strategic Air Command commander, found a group of young Airmen working in a hidden corner of an aircraft hangar. The group had purchased a non-functional plane for $50 and was using Air Force equipment to fix it.

Legend credits LeMay as saying "If we're going to do this, we're going to do this right."

LeMay set aside space for the Air Force's first aero club and built a program to teach piloting, maintenance and other aviation skills to those who wouldn't normally have access to professional instruction. They acquired seven aircraft within one year of opening.

After seeing the success Offutt had with the new program, other SAC bases quickly followed suit by establishing aero clubs for private pilots all over the nation.

Today, escaping the ground for the comfort of the sky is something almost anyone at Offutt can do. However, interested aviators must meet some basic requirements first. All students must pass a flight physical, have a minimum of a third-class medical and have access to the base. Military members, contractors, family members, civilians, retirees and even members of the Civil Air Patrol can take advantage of the aero club's services.

Safety is a primary concern for all involved, said Weidenbusch.

"Not only do we need to obey federal safety standards, but we're also inspected under Air Force regulations too," he said.

During a recent Air Force assessment, the LeMay Aero Club was awarded with high marks and complimented with heavy praise.

"Of all the aero clubs out there, this is the one I'd most like to be a member," Lt. Col. Daniel Arch, the inspector from Air Force Services Agency.

For more information about the LeMay Aero Club or to register for flight instruction, call (402) 294-3385 or visit the LeMay Aero Club website.  

(Portions of this article were taken from "LeMay Aero Club turns people into pilots" by Staff Sgt. James M. Hodgman)