Membership has its privledges

About 53 years ago a group of mechanics at Mohawk Airlines thought it might be fun to learn to fly. Eight men and one woman pooled their money and bought a Piper PA-1. The East Hill Flying Club in Ithaca, N.Y., was born.

The flying club started to grow, thanks to members drawn from nearby Cornell University.

“People wanted to fly, so they bought more airplanes,” says David St. George, who is now chief instructor at the club. “By 1962 the club had six Piper Tri-Pacers and a new building to operate out of.”

The growth has continued over the years.

“We now have almost 200 members,” says St. George, adding that many members join the club because they want a sense of ownership. “With the club you get more of a say in what kind of airplanes they have. For example we just sold a Cessna 152 and bought a Citabria because we wanted a fun airplane. It has been wildly busy because everyone wants to fly it. It’s hard to find a tailwheel airplane for rent! We are one of the few places that does tailwheel training on a grass strip.”

The club also has three C-172s that are used by students in a Part 141 program, a Mooney, and a Beech Duchess.

Like most flying clubs, there is an initial fee ($300 in this case) and another $400 down on deposit.

“We also have monthly dues of $45,” says St. George. “So obviously the more you fly, the cheaper the hourly rate is. Although we have about 200 members, only about 80 of them are active. We have many more who still pay their dues to support the mission of the club.”

Part of the mission is attracting more people to aviation. St. George notes the club had a Young Eagle’s rally coming up in a few days. The club also has a testing center. The school employs a pack of instructors to help customers improve their skills.

St. George believes that one of the reasons the club has been around as long as it has is that its strict training requirements help keep insurance costs low.

“We’ve only had one accident in all those years,” he says. “We have structure and strict rules, such as an annual three-hour check out that is similar to the FAA’s Wings program. We have our clients do one hour of takeoffs and landings, one hour of airwork and one hour of instrument. That helps keep our insurance costs down.”

Although flying will never be cheap, for those who choose to be involved in flying clubs, it can be less expensive than flying with an FBO.

“That’s because we don’t have to make a profit, we just have to break even,” St. George explains. “On average your flying clubs will be about 15% cheaper than your FBO rentals.”


Officials at other clubs agree.

“We started this flying club 23 years ago to make flying less expensive,” says Dennis Cunneen, president and chief instructor of the RFTS Flying Club based at Tacoma Industrial Airport (TIW) in Gig Harbor, Wash. “The club is run as a not-for-profit business, although we are required by law to pay sales tax to the state of Washington. Last year we paid $2,400.”

The club has three aircraft on lease back: a 2005 G1000-equipped Cessna 172, a 1967 C-172 and a retractable gear Cessna Cardinal. Rental prices range from $105 wet for the Cardinal to $68 wet for the 1967 Cessna.

The price of rental often goes up with the cost of fuel, but members are kept apprised of the situation so there are no surprises.

According to Cunneen, the club is able to lower the cost of insurance by limiting the number of members, which limits risk.

“We have 28 members now and two people on the waiting list,” he says. “The club requires all members to fly with an instructor if they haven’t flown one of the club airplanes within 90 days. They may have flown another, but they still have to fly with myself or the other instructor in one of the club’s airplanes because we want to be sure they still know how to keep the dirty side down.”

Club members range from student pilots on up. Members who fly the retractable gear airplane must have at least 125 hours total time and 25 hours in retractable gear aircraft. They also have to pay an additional $720 a year in insurance on top of their $450 non-refundable initiation fee and the monthly $40 dues.

“It costs us $7,700 a year to keep the Cardinal in the club because of insurance, but it is one of the more popular airplanes because of its capability,” Cunneen notes.

The club has a web site ( that answers frequently asked questions, the most common of which is “What does RFTS stand for?”

“It stands for Radio Frequency Target Simulator, which was a Boeing project myself and another founder of the club were working on some 23 years ago,” Cunneen says. “Since he was buying the airplane that founded the club he got to name the club.”

Another flying club with a mysterious name is the RFC Dallas Flying Club based at Addison Airport (ADS) in Dallas, Texas.

The 100 members share five aircraft, including a Piper PA28-180, a Cessna 177RG, and three Beechcraft: an F33A, an A36 and a C33 Debonair.

According to president John Rousseau, the club was originally created as a flying club for Rockwell employees, so RFC stands for Rockwell Flying Club. In the early 1980s the club became a separate entity from Rockwell. Today, members joke that RFC stands for Rockin’ Flying Club.

Club membership is limited to keep the planes accessible and insurance costs low, says Rousseau. “We generally try to keep between 15 and 20 active members per airplane,” he said. “To join, a prospective member must attend a monthly membership meeting, complete a short application form, and submit the application form together with copies of his or her pilot and medical certificates to the club treasurer along with a check for the refundable membership deposit, which is currently $500, and the initiation fee, which is currently $65.”

The initiation fee covers the cost of printing manuals and documents distributed to new members for each of the aircraft they fly.

Monthly dues vary, depending on which airplane members fly, starting at $45 a month for pilots who only fly the Cherokee to $65 a month for pilots who fly the Cherokee, Cardinal and Bonanza. Membership dues cover insurance, patio hangars and administrative costs, which are kept low, according to Rousseau, because the club officers are volunteers.

Aircraft rental ranges from $79 to $159.

“This is the best deal in aviation I’ve found in the Dallas area,” he says. “A relatively young pilot, say one with 125 to 150 hours of total time, can, after 10 hours of dual instruction with one of our club instructors, fly a high performance retractable gear aircraft at a very reasonable price.”

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