Yellow Jacket Flying Club soars through the skies

The Yellow Jacket Flying Club is perhaps the only club at Tech that casually travels the country on weekends, grills on a mile-long asphalt driveway and maintains $170,000 of equipment.

Since 1946, Tech students have been flying to earn their pilot license or to cross the country for a barbeque and airshow. Their fleet was earned through loans and, since becoming a 501c3 nonprofit last August, donations.

Mr. Zack Norville, chairman of Norville Industries Inc., recently donated YJFC’s fifth aircraft: a multiengine Piper.

Membership is open to all students, faculty, staff and Tech alumni and their families — alumni alone make up about a third of the roughly 150-strong roster.

To join, $25 pays for student membership, cookouts on the runway, fly-ins and airport “fun days.” About 170 people participated in last summer’s fun day at Fulton County Airport — where YJFC bases their operations.

To fly, members may pay $160 which covers insurance, tiedowns and maintenance costs. If they volunteer to maintain the club’s aircraft, like changing the oil or washing it down, or $240 for non-volunteers.

About 170 Tech students and alumni participated in last summer’s fun day at Fulton County Airport – where YJFC bases their operations, about 20 miles from campus. All Tech students, member or not, are invited for fun, food, and free flying. The next fun day is scheduled tentatively for late February or early March.

Events known as fly-ins allow regional flight clubs and other pilots fly to a particular airport. Everyone who shows up is guaranteed food, drinks, and airplane rides. Last Halloween, YJFC pilots and members flew to Habersham Airport in Cornelia, Georgia, where they competed in spot-landing and balloon drops and grilled on the runway.

However, flying isn’t the only aspect of the flying club; engineers and machine-friendly students also participate in the mechanics aspect that aircraft maintenance requires.

“For some people, turning a wrench may be the same as flying,” said Wesley Ryan, president of YJFC, “You can learn a lot as a member just as an apprentice mechanic.

The more common tasks for mechanics are oil changes, replacing landing lights, cleaning and rotating spark plugs, changing tires, inspecting the engine and “preventative maintenance,” which is 50 hours of close inspection to thoroughly maintain the planes’ function and efficiency. Members only interested in mechanics are not required to pay any flight fees.

“The YJFC is more than just a flight school, since we also promote social interaction within the club and with other aviation enthusiasts and experts,” said Dana Ionita, vice-president of programs for YJFC, “We have numerous social events throughout the semester, flying events subsidized by the club, so that the flying club is not just a place where people get their pilot licenses, but where they come to hang out with their friends.”

All flight and ground school instructors are either Tech students, including Ryan, or alumni, working part-time on a contract basis. The chief flight instructor Tina Heil was an ME major, flying with the YJFC to earn her private, instrument and commercial licenses. She has since trained several pilots and two flight instructors.

“We are the cheapest way of [learning how to fly in Atlanta. If you get the funding, you’re saving money, since flight schools anywhere else can be $6,000 more for just a private license,” said Ryan.

More often, flight schools split the pilots-in-training’s total bill between the school and the instructor; this results in a greater financial demand on the student. However, YJFC diverts all fees, other than maintenance and membership, to the instructors.

Recently, with the growing demand on the club for flight instruction, time and resources have been stretched tight.

“All of our trainers are maxed out, and right now we have to tell students to wait a month or two. If we can get these donation coming in, then we can expand and start accepting more students [for training],” said Ryan.

YJFC hopes that donors will be more encouraged to donate, thanks to their new status as a 501c3 nonprofit – this would allow donors to file their contributions as an income tax deductible.

Coinciding with the nonprofit status, YJFC is also preparing to resell two of their 70s-era trainer aircraft and plans to take out a loan to replace them with newer, more advanced aircraft.

“We are trying to trade these two airplanes to advance [the students] further to create a new generation of late-90s-model trainers,” said Ryan.

Pilots may reserve the other two general-use planes by the hour, day, weekend or full week; YJFC only charges for flight time, and the hourly rates for these two planes are $92 and $108, including fuel.

YJFC pilots have flown as far as the Northeast and west Texas and to events like Space Shuttle launches and airshows like the annual airshow in Oshkosh, Wisconsin — the largest in the world. More casually, pilots often fly to other universities’ flight programs like Auburn University in Alabama.

“We fly to Alabama, meet up with a few of their pilots and hang out for the day, and at the end of the day, we have about 20 airplanes there. We try to interact with other [schools’ flight programs],” said Ryan.

YJFC maintains a fleet of five planes with the callsign “Golf Tango” — meaning “GT” in the NATO phoenetic alphabet used for aircraft communication.

Two planes are used primarily for training purposes, and two more are for licensed pilots. All four are Cessna 172 models, the most popular personal aircraft ever and one of the most commonly used planes for pilot training.

Officers and other members with cars always offer rides to other members from campus to the Fulton County Airport – also referred to as “Charlie Brown.” There are also many MARTA bus stops on the two highway sides of the airport.

To join the Yellow Jackets Flying Club attend a meeting — every Tuesday at 6:30pm in the Instructional Center.