BLOOMINGTON — For aspiring pilots, earning a set of wings can be a drawn-out and expensive process, but the Twin City area has a number of different options for those determined to take flight.
New to the industry, Synergy Flight Center at 2823 E. Empire St., began servicing smaller aircraft in February and now is offering flight school. The company opened its doors in response to the closing of longtime maintenance company Loravco Aviation Services, said Synergy owner Andrew Dustman.
“We want to provide a flight school with leading-edge technology, doing things a little differently than the standard in the industry,” Dustman said.
To that end, Synergy’s flight school features a new Cessna 172 aircraft for training purposes, and an $85,000 Redbird FMX flight simulator. The computer simulator features a realistic cockpit with identical controls to the training plane, realistic sounds and a cockpit mechanically rigged to move around to mimic the feeling of sharp banks, steep dives and choppy turbulence.
That level of realism means students can learn piloting fundamentals in the simulator, where before the technology mainly was used to practice emergency scenarios, said Dan Amolsch, flight instructor with Synergy. Pausing the program mid-flight to coach students can keep critiques fresh in their minds, or allow the instructor to step back and let a student spread his or her wings.
“People learn best when they’re teaching themselves,” Amolsch said. “This allows me to do that with an airplane. In a real airplane, there are times I can’t let the student figure it out themselves.”
Often, flight school is billed hourly and for some, it can seem piecemeal as busy students work in lessons around their other commitments, Dustman said. Synergy offers classes at a student’s own pace, but also is offering a flat-rate, $9,995 intensive two-to-five week course, with all costs inclusive.
Students with the availability to meet several days a week can take all the time they need in the flight simulator and in the cockpit without having to pay more. Dustman said a dedicated, continuous program can save students money and time in the long run, as they avoid having to re-learn concepts that may slip away in weekslong waits between lessons.
Though demand for flight schooling isn’t on the rise, it seems to have remained steady in the Twin City area, said Ken Rittenhouse, CEO of Image Air, a longtime Bloomington-based air carrier that also provides pilot training. Students who go through Image Air’s flight school can expect to pay about $6,500 over the course of gaining their pilot’s license for a less intensive schedule of lessons than at Synergy, Rittenhouse said.
Despite the rising costs both for providers of flight training and for those taking it, Image Air has had 20-25 students in its classes consistently for the past two or three years, Rittenhouse said.
“You’ve got a lot of people who have talked to other pilots who have flown and have an interest,” Rittenhouse said. “There’s a fair amount of young people coming out and getting into the private side of aviation.”
Part of the draw in the area may be that other nearby cities don’t provide the same services.
The University of Illinois’ Institute of Aviation is scheduled to close at the end of the upcoming academic year, Rittenhouse observed.
And for Bloomington’s local Crosswinds Flying Club, membership is starting to include people from Pontiac, Logan County and Champaign-Urbana as other flying clubs are vanishing, said Ron Kelley, vice president and chief flight instructor with the group.
“I’ve been here almost 20 years now, and there used to be a flying organization in Decatur, more than one in Champaign … but they’ve kind of gone away except for Bloomington,” Kelley said. “You can see that in our membership. We’ve gotten several members from the Champaign area.”
Crosswinds Flying Club offers veterans and novices alike a chance to share ownership of a group of planes through membership dues and, as a result, can pay a lower hourly cost for their flight instruction, Kelley said.
Kelley tells people they have a wide variety of options among Image Air, Synergy, Crosswinds, or even purchasing their own planes and hiring private instruction.
“There’s advantages to all four ways,” he said.