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Apprentice Aviators Taste Fear and Fun High Above Terra Firma

By Julia Sommer, Public Affairs
Posted August 18, 1999

Photo: Airplane

UC Flying Club members receive basic flight training in Cessna 152s and the Cessna 140.

"I'd wanted to fly ever since I was kid," says John Lowe, a researcher in the Department of Linguistics and a member of the UC Flying Club. "When I was 23 and working for the Office of the President as a computer programmer, I joined the club on a lark. I needed a new challenge.

"When you're in control of a plane for the first time, it's so exhilarating -- a combination of power and terror," says Lowe. "You have the normal fears: 'Is this tin can going to fall out of the sky? Are pieces going to fall off?' Then you start to relax and enjoy it. Looking at the world from the air is a marvelous experience, especially in the Bay Area at night -- it's like a carnival."

Lowe is one of 65 members of the UC Flying Club, founded in 1939. Open to Berkeley faculty, staff, students and alumni, it also accepts applicants with no UC affiliation.

The club is based at the Oakland airport and offers its members the use of four planes at rates starting at $38 an hour, including fuel.

Most people spend at least $5,000 learning how to fly in the Bay Area skies and qualifying for their private pilot's license, says club President Tim Cookenboo.

Although people tend to think of flying as dangerous, Lowe says that "no one has ever been hurt in a club aircraft in the 18 years that I've been a member." Club planes are inspected every 100 hours of flying time.

"What kills is bad judgment," notes Lowe, "like flying into clouds before you've got your instrument rating, because you're in a hurry to get home."

Past president of the club, Greg Small, a progammer analyst III with Information Systems and Technology, joined the club in 1969 at the coaxing of a co-worker. After his initial flight, "I was hooked," Small recalls. He got his pilot's license in 1970 and is one of the few people allowed to fly on university business.

"Flying is a hell of a lot of fun," says Small. "Landlubbers get to experience and control three dimensions instead of two. It's a revelation; you see things you never saw before."

Assistant Professor of Marketing Florian Zettlemeyer joined the club soon after he arrived at Berkeley in Jan. 1998.

"I've had a blast ever since," he says of his flying time. "You get to see things from a new perspective. At 2,000 to 5,000 feet up, the scenery is overwhelming. The technical mastery required is challenging and fun -- there's always more to learn," he says. "And being in frequent contact with the complex Bay Area air traffic control system is exciting."

Bimonthly meetings during the academic year feature flying films, speakers, discussions and ground instruction. Non-members are welcome at the meetings and $35 introductory flights are offered from time to time.

The club charges a lifetime membership fee of $40 and a refundable $120 security deposit. Monthly dues of $32 ($24 for spouses) cover plane maintenance and insurance. For information about the UC Flying Club, check out its web site, at Prospective members may call David Smith at 841-4344, or leave a message on the club's answering machine at 433-2825.


August 18 - 24, 1999 (Volume 28, Number 2)
Copyright 1999, The Regents of the University of California.
Produced and maintained by the Office of Public Affairs at UC Berkeley.
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