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Hedgehoppers, Springfield's oldest flying club, provides a cost-effective way to fly recreationally

Saibal Mitra is a member of Hedgehoppers Flying Club. He stands in front of a Cessna 172 before the pre-flight safety check. Photo by Meghan McKinney/KSMU

Flying clubs bring together those with a love of aviation and provides them with a way to enjoy their hobby that they can afford. One club in Springfield is called Hedgehoppers. KSMU’s Meghan McKinney was invited for a flight and shares her experience.

McKINNEY: The plane I am about to fly in is a Cessna 172.

Saibal Mitra is a member of Hedgehoppers, a flying club in Springfield. He has a private pilot’s license and has been flying for a little over twenty years.

He checks the plane for safety, while I’m skeptical about being in the air.

McKINNEY: I'm just not convinced that this little blade is going to keep us up in the air.

MITRA: That is not going to keep us up in the air. That is going to provide the thrust that will move us forward. What keeps us in the air is the wind flow over the wings.

McKINNEY: How fast can this plane go?

MITRA: We are going to go 120.

McKINNEY: Per hour? Just 120? That's it? That's all it takes to be in the air?

MITRA: Yeah. It's a dinky little plane.

Mitra is a physics professor at Missouri State University.

McKINNEY: Does your physics knowledge help you fly?

MITRA: It helps me understand sometimes some of the procedures of what we do, why we do it.

After the safety check, the plane is pulled out of the hangar and we get ready to fly.

During the flight, I can’t ask many questions because the engine is loud.

While flying the plane, Mitra is also responsible for keeping in contact with air traffic control.

We fly to Stockon Lake — just north of Springfield and spend around an hour in the air.

During our flight, Mitra was instrument flying — meaning he wears goggles that block out visibility outside of the airplane, so he can rely only on the instruments of the plane to fly. "This is a way of training to fly when you’re in the clouds or low visibility conditions," he says.

Instrument panel of Hedgehopper's Cessna 172. Photo by Meghan McKinney/KSMU

Hedgehoppers Flying Club
Jeff Jones is the president of Hedgehoppers. It has been operating since 1951, and is the only flying club in Springfield, according to its website. He also is a certified flight instructor and works part time as a pilot.

“It’s more than a club. It’s a club with equity ownership. So, you purchase in typically a share in the club, which is actually ownership, which is between ten to eleven thousand dollars," Jones says.

Jones is the president of Hedgehoppers. He has the airplane window open while taxiing. Photo by Meghan McKinney/KSMU

There are currently 20 people in the club. According to Jones, all costs are split between each member. This makes recreational flying less expensive compared to owning a plane and taking on the costs alone.

Jones says people join the flying club so they have access to an aircraft. “Sometimes it’s hard to get a good airplane to rent around here," he says. "It’s expensive, and a lot of times sometimes there are not in the best of conditions because they are rented a lot for other uses, like student training.”

Other costs of aircraft ownership include insurance, maintenance and taxes. Jones says to be in the club, you must hold a minimum of a private pilot’s certification and at least 100 flight hours. Once a member is in, there’s a schedule of flying time and social events.

A flying club isn’t the only way people can fly as a hobby. Mitra says it’s common for groups of about four to five people to own a plane together as a partnership.

Air Traffic Control
Most airports have air traffic control (ATC). Controllers speak to pilots through the radio and direct traffic, according to Jones, "they're responsibility is separating other aircraft from each other and sequencing take offs and landings.”

Mitra (left) and Jones (right) communicate with air traffic control while flying the plane. Photo by Meghan McKinney/KSMU

Radio communication is quick and there is no room for error. Mitra says air traffic control communication was the most intimidating part about learning how to fly.

“Even today after so many hours of flying, when they sometimes talk, it is also too fast for me," Mitra says. "And, you may have heard once or twice I had to say, ‘say that again.’”

Mitra says flying has given him confidence, as flying requires certainty.

McKINNEY: What do you do to calm your nerves?

MITRA: The key is to remember that you are the pilot in command. If the ATC can give you an instruction, and if you feel that it is unsafe and you are unable to comply, then you just say ‘unable to comply’ and let them figure it out.

Mitra says that can be difficult for new pilots. He says flying has taught him skills he uses in everyday life like multitasking.

Ultimately, Mitra says flying is one of his passions and it’s a good stress reliever.

“You feel as free as a bird. For me, a quintessential definition of freedom and an act of freedom—a free spirit soaring," he says.

How to Fly
There are several certifications of a pilot’s license, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, or the FAA. The first step to recreational flying is getting a student pilot certification.

To fly alone, you’ll need a recreational certification, with the next level being a private certification. Levels require knowledge tests, as well as flight hours with a certified flight instructor and solo, and a flying examination by the FAA.

You can either attend a flight school or receive training from a certified flight instructor.

To learn more about Hedgehoppers, visit their website.

Meghan McKinney is an undergraduate journalism student at Missouri State University. She works as a news reporter and announcer for KSMU. Her passions, other than journalism, are psychology, music, sign languages and dancing. She also runs a local music page on Facebook called "SGF Playlist."