Aviation Club helps young pilots get off the ground

Even though it’s usually true that “the sky’s the limit,” St. Olaf’s Aviation Club, has been aiming far higher since 2015.

The club’s founder, Frances Ann Rose ’17, sat down for an interview to share the story of her experience in aviation and the recent history of the club.

The rules and philosophy of flying have profoundly affected Rose’s life. Her enthusiasm is understandable given her early exposure to aviation – both her grandfather and her father were pilots, and Rose first flew in a small plane when she was just four months old.

“I had the idea for [starting the club] two summers ago when I had the flying instruction,” Rose said. “I was hoping to find other people on campus who are either like me, students who are in the process of learning to fly and getting their licenses, or finding students who would like to learn how to fly but either don’t have the contacts or resources to be able to achieve that goal.”

Aviation Club’s mission is to provide Oles with “a place to explore navigation” and “a forum for pilots of different experience levels to be able to sit down and share stories with each other.”

After a year of development, the club currently has three main activities: sessions on basic aviation knowledge, education on aviation safety and “discovery flights.”

“As you can probably tell, safety is … really important in aviation,” Rose said. “We are constantly learning. No matter how many hours someone flies, they are not a master of that discipline. To get into that sort of mindset is dangerous.”

Discovery flights are what the club calls the flying sessions at Stanton Airfield, where members have a chance to fly in an actual plane with Certified Flight Instructors. The activity is meant to provide inspiration for beginners as well as experience for those who are interested in getting a license.

Regarding the development of the club, Rose paid special thanks to economics professor Anthony Becker and religion professor Jim Hanson for their “invaluable” help. They are licensed pilots who have provided the club with insightful information, local events and personal contacts.

Despite the passion of its members, the Aviation Club is facing a financial problem. Until now most of the club’s resources, including training materials and the costs associated with discovery flights are covered by Rose’s own funds. The Student Government Association refused to fund the club, which Rose found understandable as they “don’t want to put their students in potentially dangerous situations.” The club does not approach the Piper Center since most of its members consider flying to be recreation more than career preparation.

The club is seeking a sponsor from outside of the school, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association. Meanwhile, it is thinking of creating a pool of funds among its members.

Despite financial strain the club is still active with upcoming activities, such as biweekly meetings, watching “Sully” – a recent film about aviation – and more discovery flights, in hope of inspiring people to pursue a pilot license.

“There are a lot of things you can do even when you are not a professional pilot that are beneficial to the community at large,” Rose said. Mercy Flight, a nonprofit organization which enables volunteer pilots to fly patients, primarily cancer patients, to their hospitals for free, is an example.

The existence of Aviation Club shows that the sky is not the limit at St. Olaf.

Contact the club at stolafaviationclub@stolaf.edu for further information.