Desire to fly, teach fuels flying club
From its humble beginnings of operating one plane at barren landing strips in Johnston and Ankeny to its current status as the largest club of its kind in the Midwest, the Foxtrot Flying Club continues to educate and inspire pilots to take to the skies.
“Our purpose is to stimulate and encourage interest in aviation,” said Dick Fowler, club president, chief flight instructor and founding member.
Fowler, who began as a student at the non-profit club, said when he and five other people founded Foxtrot in 1967 they had no intention of making it a club. Their intention was purely economic.
“We wanted to buy a plane and share the expenses to keep the costs low,” he said.
As other pilots learned about the club over the last 36 years, its membership grew and the club purchased additional aircraft to meet the demand of its members. At one point during the mid-1990’s, the group had nine planes, three more than it has now. Today, the club has approximately 30 or more members, including eight instructors, and has graduated from grass runways. It’s home is now Des Moines International Airport where members sometimes take off on flights to destinations as far away as Canada and the Bahamas.
Fowler said the Foxtrot network of certified flight instructors leads would-be pilots through initial training to private certification, instrument rating, commercial certification, multiengine rating, all the way to the Airline Transport Pilot certification. Some students have graduated to commercial aviation.
“A lot of them enjoy getting up once a week just to do a little sightseeing,” he said. “They love flying and some of them make a job out of it.”
Sean Davis, a full-time instructor, started his own company after he joined Foxtrot. “It’s an encouraging place to pick up business when you get started,” he said.
Foxtrot offers three levels of membership, ranging in one-time prices from $160 to $780, most of which is refundable when members exit the group, plus monthly fees from $17 to $60. Basic membership grants pilots access to three of the group’s smallest planes while the most advanced membership gains them use of bigger planes, including a twin-engine Piper Seneca that seats six passengers. The group’s fleet includes two Cessna 150s, one Cessna 172, two Piper Archers, one Piper Arrow, one Cherokee Six and one Seneca.
As co-owners of the planes, the pilots are covered by the club’s insurance policy. Pilots must pay an hourly fee to rent a plane, which can range from $42 to $90 an hour. They are also responsible for their own fuel, which can cost as much as $3.49 per gallon. Fowler said interest in aviation dwindled following the terrorist attacks in 2001 and a sagging economy has hampered business, but it is slowly recovering. “Things are getting better now,” he said.
Fowler said credits the group’s members for maintaining low operating costs and recruiting members to ensure the financial health of the club.
“Our members have chosen to keep it going,” he said. “They provide incentive to stay together.”
That incentive, the 60-year-old Fowler added, is fueled by a desire to take to the skies.
“It’s probably the most relaxing thing I’ve ever done,” he said. “I enjoyed my first flight as a teen, but I still enjoy getting into the cockpit. That’s why I go through the effort to maintain my license. I enjoy feeling free.”