I need to make a frank admission – I am not flying club material. The problem is that I’m inherently non-compliant and anti-authoritarian. These may be useful qualities for a journalist, but not for someone who belongs to a flying club.
A friend once commented that he reckons “clubs are for seals.” Perhaps less offensively, I am quite taken by Grouch Marx’s claim that “he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member.”
But in this I will admit to being deficient. Flying clubs perform a fantastic service to general aviation and the decline in flying clubs has been a great loss. Gliding clubs are perhaps the most significant as they make it possible for people to learn to fly in its purest form and for virtually no cost. They do this by creating an esprit de corps that motivates people to work selflessly as instructors, administrators and general dogsbodies, and thus make unpowered flying possible.
A few years ago AOPA launched a large initiative to promote flying clubs. The goal: “To help build a stronger community in which more people earn pilot certificates, pilots are more active, and the flying lifetime of pilots is extended.”
There are unfortunately few flying clubs left in South Africa. It seems people have become too self-serving or busy to put the necessary effort into creating, managing and running a club. There are however some notable exceptions. I recently joined the well-run Western Cape Microlight Club which owns and operates Cape Town’s Morningstar Airfield. Given my square peg in a round hole relationship with clubs, it was perhaps not unexpected that I immediately clashed with the club’s powers that be. The first time I landed at Morningstar I took the wrong turning on the taxiway and found my way blocked. Irritated, I did a brisk 180 and taxied back. When I climbed out the plane, the first thing I received was a public bollocking for taxiing too fast – which I have to admit to.
Nonetheless, the club accepted my application for membership. Then I arranged for a Piper Malibu to fly in – and got into trouble again. Turns out the Malibu exceeded the club’s weight limit of 1,600 kg, and so I should have applied in writing to the committee for special permission before asking the Malibu in. They were right of course – I had read the club’s rules and already knew they were particular about weight, as our Saratoga was right on their limit.
So it seems I’m always in the dung; it’s just the depth that varies. But don’t let my example deter you. If you can find a club, join it. There’s no substitute for sharing experiences and learning from others, plus there are many other benefits, from cheaper flying to piss-ups.
So my advice is – join a flying club – and in my case, try harder to fit in.