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Fliers wants Southend pilots

With over 21,000 flight hours behind him, Oak Harbor resident Bob Fraser could probably fly a plane with his eyes closed.

Fraser, operations officer and instructor for the Whidbey Island Navy Flying Club at NAS Whidbey, passes his passion for aviation on to aspiring pilots.

The club’s new manager, Oak Harbor resident Eric Miller, hopes to break the perception that the club is only open to Navy, retired Navy personnel or their families. The main requirement for students or pilots who wish to fly in the club must have a membership with the Civil Air Patrol. A patron membership — for those not directly connected to the military — can be purchased for $67 a year.

“We welcome everyone from the other side of the fence,” he said.

Miller, formerly of both the Air Force and Navy, is a student of Fraser himself. The flying club’s manager, a husband, father to three and little league coach -- he can now add pilot to his list.

Another one of the 230 members of the flying club, Fraser has a long list of flight experience. A retired Navy captain who flew in the Vietnam and Korean wars, he is now a frequent flyer, teacher and one of the most invaluable assets to the club, according to Miller. He’s been with the club for 25 years as an instructor, spent 32 years in the Navy and has been flying for over 50 years.

“He’s not teaching from a book, he’s teaching from actual experience,” Miller said.

Pilots have access to fly the club’s 11 planes, which include two Cessna 152s, a Cessna 172, three Piper Cherokee 140s, a Piper Arrow, a 7ECA Citabria, two T-34B Mentors and a Seneca.

The flying club operates under a seven-member board of directors, which oversees the day-to-day operations of the club. The flying club operates under the Navy’s morale, welfare and recreation program, but receives no funding from the Navy. President of the board Walt Spangenberg said safety is something they take seriously, and are proud of their clean record since the club has been in operation since the 1980s.

“We tend to stress safety very very heavily here,” Spangenberg said.

Miller gives most of the credit to the experienced pilots and instructors, who with excellent safety record take students under their wings to teach them the trade.

“We’re just very fortunate to have the staff that we have,” he said.

Miller is currently emphasizing on the flying club’s availability to show non-military Whidbey residents how affordable and accessible flying can be compared to a club off Whidbey Island. Students can earn pilot certification at about 75 percent of the cost at an off-base facility, he said, and save themselves a lot of money.

To join the club, members must pay a $50 membership fee and $20 monthly dues, in addition to their CAP membership which is about $67 a year. The hourly aircraft rates range from $50 to $143, which includes fuel.

All of the training is conducted on a one-to-one basis available seven days a week, and students generally receive their license after around 60 hours of flight time. The instructor fee is $22 an hour for flight or ground training.

To get on the base, all club members receive a background check before they are given a special base pass.

Once students receive their license, they are allowed to use any of the club’s planes with or without guests. Miller said club members enjoy the ability to travel around the state, like going to the San Juan islands for the day or weekend camping trips.

“Once you can get to the point where you can solo and you’re on your own the costs go down dramatically,” he said.

Pilots can pay about $20 to $30 more an hour to rent a plane off Whidbey Island, Miller said, plus an additional $20 to $25 more for the flight instruction.

“It comes out to several thousand dollar savings,” he said.

The experience and sense of freedom pilots get is why Miller loves to fly, and as an added bonus, gain the camaraderie and experience of the club’s many pilots.

“It’s not as hard as people partake it to be,” Miller said. “It gives you a real sense of accomplishment when you’re on your own.”

(INFO BOX)

For more info

To learn more about the Whidbey Island Navy Flying Club call 360-679-4359 or e-mail millere@naswi.navy.mil. For more information about the Civil Air Patrol visit their Web site at www.cap.gov.

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Local flight possibilities available to Whidbey Island residents

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