On the weekend of October 21–22, Rensselaer Flying Club took second in the 2015 Region VII SAFECON competition promoted by the National Intercollegiate Flying Association, with Kirk Bittner ’16 receiving first in the Top Pilot award. These are just a few of the numerous accolades that RPI Flying Club received, which include first and second place in Navigation; eighth in Power Off Landing; first in Short Field Approach and Landing; first, fifth, and ninth in Message Drop; seventh and eleventh in Computer Accuracy; fourth in Aircraft Recognition; second and fifth in Ground Trainer; first, second, third, and fourth in Simulated Comprehensive Aircraft Navigation; and fourth in Aircraft Preflight Inspection. If these statistics aren’t impressive enough, compare RPI Flying Club’s success with the success of schools such as the United States Military Academy, West Point, who placed sixth, or the United States Coast Guard Academy, who placed eighth, whose pilots and club members have intentions of using their pilot’s licenses for their profession. Due to this triumph, our Flying Club, which is in the the top three, has been invited to compete in the national competition in Ohio taking place this coming May.
In an interview with Kirk Bittner ’16 and Alessandro Galli ’16, the two talked about their personal experience with gaining their pilot licenses, the club and its members, and the effort and teamwork required of them to have such prosperity. “I’ve wanted to be a pilot since I was a little kid; I don’t remember a time I didn’t want to be a pilot. But it wasn’t until I got here at RPI that I decided to start my flight training. I joined the flying club here my freshman year and decided that since I wanted to do it so badly I might as well start. I got my pilot’s license my sophomore year of college, and I’ve been flying ever since,” said Bittner. “I went on to get my instrument rating, which is the next pilot’s license you can get after your private pilot’s license. I am now going to work for Cessna, which makes the planes we fly, and they have a flying club there, and I get to do a lot of flying with them over the summer.” Bittner is an aeronautical engineer, as are over half of the members of the club.
However, the club does not require a member to be an aeronautical engineer, or have any flight experience. In fact, the majority of the club consists of non-pilots who are either receiving their flight training, pursuing their license, or participating in flying. Bittner and Galli voiced their doubts of everyone pursing a license, due to the immense cost, which includes renting aircraft, paying an instructor, paying for the test, and ground school (which the club offers at a cheaper price), which would total to somewhere between $6,000 and $8,000. The club itself takes on a large deal of monetary stress, especially during competitions. They flew three aircraft: two Cessna 172s, and a Cessna 152. The 172 is a four seater, costing $120 per hour, and the 152 is a two seater, costing $100 per hour. Concerning the costs of going to Ohio and competing there, the club is looking into WeR Gold and some major fundraising.
When asked if these senior members felt confident in leaving the fate of their beloved club in the hands of their predecessors along with their general comments on their underclassmen, they said they “definitely feel confident. Coming into this year, we were a little bit worried with the cost associated with becoming a pilot. Not many of our members can afford the cost. A lot of our pilots are upperclassmen. But this year we’ve had a lot of new pilots join the club and our freshmen have started their flight training or plan to start soon…Everybody on the team contributed to our overall score. Everybody did something with a test or exam that contributed. Everybody on the team makes a difference. Just having everyone there is important.”
Stay tuned to hear how our Flying Club fares in the national competition. I for one anticipate it with high hopes and expectations. Go RPI Flying Club!