Katie Peterson | Staff Writer

The Soldier for Life – Transition Assistance Program offers several resources to the transitioning soldier on Fort Leavenworth from workshops and seminars to job fairs and the corporate fellowship program, which helps soldiers transition into the corporate business world.

Lt. Col. Tony Taylor, an instructor in the Department of Tactics, Command and General Staff College, will retire from the Army Aug. 31. SFL-TAP introduced Taylor to a resource he didn’t know he had available — the Fort Leavenworth Flying Club.

Established in 1958, the Fort Leavenworth Flying Club is one of only two Army-owned flying clubs left in the United States, the other being the Redstone Arsenal Flying Activity in Huntsville, Ala.

“This place is a gem. Most folks don’t even know about it,” Taylor said.

Taylor commissioned into the Army in 1995 and started as an aviator in 1996 flying TH-67 helicopters, single-engine helicopters and eventually dual-engine Black Hawks.

Knowing he wanted to transition to airline piloting after retiring from active duty, Taylor interviewed with Envoy Air in Texas in June 2017 before beginning the SFL-TAP program.

“I love flying. I like the people in the community,” Taylor said. “It goes with the military (having) like-minded people and professionals who encourage others to learn. We keep each other challenged to a higher level of performance.

“I learn something every time I go out,” he said. “It keeps me young (and) keeps you on your toes.”

After receiving a conditional hire letter from Envoy upon completion of 250 commercial flying hours, Taylor was set to go to Coast Flight Training Texas when he was told about the Flying Club.

“(They) said ‘Why don’t you go to the Flying Club here and start flying?’” Taylor said.

From there, Taylor contacted Eric Chambers, Flying Club chief instructor and manager, and has since logged 90 hours of his required 250 in a fixed-wing aircraft for half the cost.

It costs a training pilot $115 per hour of flying plus instructor fees. However, at the Flying Club, if there are two pilots in the aircraft, the cost is split. At Coast Flight, it’s full price no matter how many pilots are on board, Taylor said.

“I’ve put in $10,000 for 90 hours and saved $20,000,” Taylor said.

For a pilot who hasn’t been an aviator in the Army like Taylor, the savings is even more significant.

In the 2009 crash of Colgan Air Flight 3407 in Buffalo, N.Y., 50 were left dead. Later it was revealed the two pilots on the flight did not have experience flying in icy weather conditions. Chambers said this is a reason there is a pilot shortage.

“(After that) they raised (flight time) from 250 hours to 1,500 (hours) without a four-year degree or 1,000 (hours) with a degree,” Chambers said. “For what you invest, the salary starts out extremely low keeping people from getting into it as a career. Now the industry is forcing pilots into instructing to build flight time. Not everyone is so keen on teaching so the quality of instruction has dropped.”

“For guys like (Taylor), the Army has already put him through flight school, he’s got his flight time (and) he’s got his four-year degree, and he’s coming out of the Army,” he said. “So, for the rotary-wing guys, they can get their fixed-wing stuff and then go to the airlines in a rather fast pace without too much more training because (they) already have so many hours of just general flying experience. That counts toward that total time the airline is looking for.”

The reason for the additional training is in the aircraft itself, Chambers said.

“All the Army is pretty much (rotary wing),” he said. “(Fixed wing) is a different platform. They have different flight maneuvers (and) the air dynamics are different.

“The Cessna doesn’t hover like a helicopter,” he said. “So, they have to learn the differences between hovering and not hovering and actually landing on a runway. Past that, everything else is the same.”

Taylor said there were several licenses he must get before starting with Envoy.

“The first step is a private pilot license (40 hours of flight time) and then there’s a whole bunch of other licenses you’d need depending on what you want to do,” he said.

In Taylor’s case he also needs an instrument certificate — 50 hours of cross country flight time with 10 hours in a fixed wing and 40 hours of simulated instrument — plus a single-engine commercial license and a multi-engine commercial license. Currently, Taylor has finished the requirements for the instrument certificate and the single-engine license. He will build up the remaining 160 hours of commercial flight time in a multi-engine aircraft for his final license at Coast Flight.

Chambers said the Flying Club offers transitioning soldiers like Taylor the opportunity for a second career.

“The airline mandates that (Taylor) doesn’t have to retire until he’s 65, so he’s got another 20 years of flying that he can do at the airlines,” Chambers said. “He can have a whole other career in aviation aside from his 23 years in the Army. So, between (the Flying Club) and then something like Coast Flight, they can have a secondary retirement career in the airlines with just a few short steps here. I think that’s what’s neat.”

Taylor said he hopes to pilot for Envoy for a year or two and then come back to Fort Leavenworth as an instructor.

“I want to give back to the community what they gave me,” he said.

Chambers said he felt the community was the biggest draw for incoming pilots.

“In the 12 years I’ve been in aviation in this area, I’ve probably met everybody from Atchison through Kansas City as far as pilots (and) mechanics,” he said. “It’s a small-knit community and I think a lot of people are attracted to that and its freedom.”

The Fort Leavenworth Flying Club is a Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation activity available to all active-duty military, retirees, spouses, dependents and Department of Defense civilians. People can begin flying solo at 16 and obtain a private pilot license at age 17.

Along with flying lessons, the Flying Club also offers hangar rental, aircraft rental and fuel. For more information, call 684-6036.

“This is for everybody,” Taylor said. “Whether you’re military, a spouse, dependent, if you got access to base and you want to learn to fly, this is the place to do it.”