Gerry Padnos has a background in aerospace engineering, and his father was a pilot.
But, he says, “I never got to use it. I always wanted to fly.”
The Wings of Carolina Flying Club, as it has for so many others, is making it happen.
“We provide safe aeronautical training, low-cost aviation education, inexpensive hourly aircraft rates, and flying fun,” says John Gaither Jr., who has served as the 55-year-old club’s president the past two years.
Originally known as the Chapel Hill Flying Club, Wings renamed and relocated next to the Raleigh Executive Jetport in Sanford in 2001. It is run mostly by volunteers and currently has 400 members. The club offers a full range of aviation training in private pilot, commercial and instrument rating.
Padnos is making his dream a reality when he comes out to the jetport, where propellers are whirling and engines are humming. Pilots are regularly checking their aircraft and practicing maneuvers and landings.
The club owns a fleet of 13 aircraft. Seven are Cessna 152s, three are Pipers and three are Mooneys. It also has a maintenance hangar with two full-time mechanics, a 6,500-foot runway, a flight training center, a flight simulator and a clubhouse with a deck that overlooks the airport.
To become certified, students must demonstrate safe takeoffs and landings and be able to maintain positive control of the aircraft, using good judgment at all times. Sound easy? It can be – once the art of cruising 5,000 feet through the air in a machine that weighs close to 2,000 pounds is mastered.
There is a lot to learn before the first solo.
“When you begin to fly, learning how to land is most critical,” says 85-year-old Gene Weaver, one of 18 flight instructors contracted by the club. Weaver is Padnos’ instructor.
“There are a lot of things you have to be aware of when landing, such as being properly aligned with the runway and maintaining consistent airspeed,” Weaver said.
He’s been teaching people to fly since 1972 and has logged more than 11,500 flight hours. He taught his son to fly, who in turn taught Weaver’s grandson, making three generations of pilots in his family.
The camaraderie that develops with other pilots adds to the fun. The club has pizza nights, monthly cookouts in the hangar, and fly-ins to local airports, aeronautical events and annual club trips. Those past trips have included visits to the Carolina Aviation Museum in Charlotte, Ocracoke Island, Charleston, South Carolina, and Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
“We’ve learned how to do it the right way, the fun way,” said Jim Carlson, the club’s vice president and member since 1999. “We have members that come through here and then fly all over the world. If it weren’t for the club, I would never have completed pilots training. Now I can’t fly enough.”