Plane & Pilot
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Light-Sport Chronicles: Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Here’s a flight school/club where fun flying is #1

SKYRAIDER AVIATION. Chris Dillis based his successful LSA flight school on flying-club experience in Europe.
The success of the long-running Cheers TV show, I’m convinced, came in no small part from the seductive lines in that great theme song that so well captured the spirit of the show:
Sometimes you want to go
where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

Chris Dillis, a big, strapping guy with a big, friendly smile, lived in Germany a few years back. He got involved in a U.S. Army flying club while he was there, and one day had an epiphany: He was having fun.

Here’s the kicker: He had flown previously in the U.S. The experience had been...different, very different indeed.

“I was introduced to the European Very Light Aircraft (VLA) and a particular mentality as I flew with various German and British flying clubs. I saw that these clubs were probably more about socializing than about flying.

“My flight training in the U.S. was nothing like in Europe. Over here, it’s more corporate,” Dillis continues. “Centennial near Denver is one of the busiest GA airports in the country, with lots of rules and regulations. It was very much like school: You fly, you leave, you come back when it’s time for another lesson.”

Most of my flight training syncs up with that assessment. How many of us who learned to fly this way would call the typical colorless, businesslike flight-school experience “fun?”

By contrast, Dillis likens the Euro flight-school atmosphere to “...a clubhouse. People hang out all day with other pilots. Sure, they fly, but often they come out, raise a couple beers, have a good time and never get near an airplane. There’s a camaraderie among club members. I’d even say the social aspect is almost more important than the actual flying. I sure never had that experience in the U.S.!”

Coleman AeroClub in Mannheim, Germany, was created in the European style: membership dues but no fractional ownership fees, since the club owned the airplanes and members paid rent. There was a little clubhouse where members hung out, and 16 hours of volunteer work were required each year.

“On Saturday mornings,” says Dillis, “pilots and students hung out with each other until it was their turn to fly or the weather cleared.”

Some clubs he visited had informal bars with drinks, beer and snacks...not a vending machine in a windowless back room bathed in garish fluorescent light. The Coleman club in Germany put on monthly barbecues and, like many clubs, put on regular fun-flight events.

“We also had cross-cultural fly-ins with a German flying club in Mannheim,” Dillis says. “It was a great chance for Americans to fly with Germans and vice versa. That was cool.”

During his time in Germany, Dillis bought a half share in an Aero AT-3, the almost-LSA forerunner to the U.S. Gobosh. Gobosh, (“GO Big Or Stay Home”), was run by Dave Graham and Tim Baldwin. I’m sorry to report Graham and Baldwin closed up their operation recently, although happy to hear from Dillis that the AT-4, imported under the name Gobosh, will return with new dealers. That’s good news: It remains one of my favorite fun-flying LSA.


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