Flight club takes off despite winds

By Seth Mauzy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Monday, October 10, 2005

The UA Flight Club took to the skies Saturday for the first time as a club this semester for the 2005 Copperstate Fly-in Air Show at the Casa Grande Municipal Airport. The event is a regional gathering sponsored by the Experimental Aircraft Association and attracts pilots and enthusiasts from all over the Southwest who wish to see the latest in small aircraft, as well as admire the acres of vintage and new aircraft that fill the fields for the four-day event.

Three UA professors and two students, all with seats full of club members, took off from Ryan Airfield Saturday morning for the 45-minute flight to Casa Grande, 50 miles north of Tucson. Another student had planned on flying up later in the morning but was unable to take off because of strong winds. Once back on the ground, the club spent time taking in the astonishing array of small and experimental aircraft that were flown in by other enthusiasts, many of which were marked "for sale."

Manufacturers like Sirrus and Lancair had displays of new factory-made models, while other booths offered build-your-own-airplane kits for those who preferred to build their planes to their own specifications.

Whether you buy it from the factory or build it yourself, owning and maintaining your own plane is an expensive and demanding hobby, but for the club members that do fly, the freedom of leaving the ground under your own control is well worth it.

"I got my first pilot lessons for my 16th birthday," said Eric Hoffman-Watt, an aerospace engineering sophomore who flew some of the club members to the event. "I was scared the first time I tried it, but I fell in love with it and have been flying off and on ever since."

Hoffman-Watt shares a Piper Cherokee single-engine plane with his father.

"We both got our licenses within a year of each other, and we both came to the conclusion that we needed a plane," he said.

Some members, like David Hahs, an aerospace engineering junior and president of the club, have their licenses but instead choose to rent small planes from Tucson International Airport, an option that is still pricey.

"Depending on the size you want it will cost you between $100 and $160 an hour," said Hahs. "The good thing is that you're only charged for flight hours, so you can walk around here all day without paying $160 an hour for it."

After 1 p.m., the airport was shut down and loudspeakers blared the national anthem signaling the start of the air show. Seven pilots from across the country filled the skies above the airport with streams of colorful smoke as they looped and whirled through the air. Many of these pilots compete in aerobatics competitions, but Saturday's event was a friendly chance for these pilots to dazzle the crowds and have fun.

"There are two kinds of pilots; those who fly to get where they're going and those who fly for the fun of flying," said Hahs. "These guys are definitely the latter."