The Flying Club Has Taken Off
By Kelly Saavedra
A club formed for aviation enthusiasts in the Carnegie Mellon University community has grown from 30 members to 200 in its first year.
Founded by two Ph.D. students in the Robotics Institute, Jay Patrikar and Azarakhsh Keipour, The Flying Club (TFC) is now offering a course through CMU’s Student College (StuCo), in which students can get the ground instruction they need to pursue a pilot’s license. StuCo is an organization that provides Carnegie Mellon students with the opportunity to share knowledge through educational, self-designed courses. Instructors and students receive credit for their work.
The ground instruction course is being taught by Jack Wang, a sophomore majoring in electrical and computer engineering, who joined the club shortly after he arrived on campus.
“I saw an Instagram post on the club, and thought, ‘oh, that looks like a pretty good opportunity,’” said Wang, who obtained his pilot’s license at age 17 and helped several of his high school classmates do the same. “One step toward getting a pilot’s license is to pass an FAA written exam, which consists of all multiple-choice questions. Student pilots need to pass that before they can take their practical exam at the end of their training. This course I’m teaching is designed to get students fully prepared to take that written part of the exam.”
"It was magnificent and thrilling."
— Kriti Kacker, student and first-time flyer
Wang is considering a career in avionics or robotics, preferably in satellite communications or radio communications signals, so he can apply his knowledge to how airplanes communicate with each other to make airspace safer.
One unique aspect of his course is that students have access to a flight simulator on campus, thanks to AirLab in the Robotics Institute and TFC. Wang is able to bring his students into the simulator to get acclimated with how a cockpit is set up, which he feels is an added benefit to simply reading about it in books or listening to descriptions of it during lectures.
“Imagine you’re a student, and you’ve never been in an airplane before. You have no idea what those buttons and switches are for. The flight simulator is great addition to this course,” he said.
Twenty students are taking the ground instruction course this semester, with 15 students still on a waiting list due to classroom capacity limits. Wang says he is happy to have the opportunity to share his passion for flying, and he finds that every time he shares an experience or a concept with other people, he becomes a better pilot himself, understanding the concept better each time.
The club has many first-time flyers, like Kriti Kacker, a biomedical engineering major, who flew with Patrikar to Morgantown, West Virginia.
“We flew around the time of sunset, and the sky was flushed with a myriad of colors. It was magnificent and thrilling. There was no one else for miles,” she said.
“When you are in the air,” she added, “it's just you, the pilot and the sky, with the entire world below you. At night, the city lights feel like you are flying over a galaxy. It's peaceful and poetic.”
"The Flying Club is a great way for aspiring and experienced pilots to get together."
— Jay Apt, Professor Emeritus
Former astronaut Jay Apt, professor emeritus in the Tepper School of Business and the Department of Engineering and Public Policy, said, “It is extremely valuable for CMU to have an organization like The Flying Club here, since an engineering school naturally attracts technologists who are interested in flight and the club provides a way to connect the CMU folks who are interested in learning to fly with the available resources near Pittsburgh.”
He added, “While Pittsburgh isn’t as vibrant an aviation community as nearby cities like Butler, Beaver and Latrobe, we have enough CMU pilots to help mentor the next generation. I have enjoyed getting together with the certified pilots, both young and old, at CMU and with those interested in learning to fly. The Flying Club is super well-organized and is a great way for aspiring and experienced pilots to get together.”
Over the summer, five members of the club flew to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to attend EAA Airventure, an annual air show that attracts 500,000 aviation enthusiasts for a week-long celebration of the past, present and future in the world of flight. The group spent the weekend watching airshows, interacting with other pilots and attending talks and workshops.
Last spring, 18 club members flew to Niagara Falls in six planes. Two trips are planned for this semester, one later this month to the Great Lakes Region and one in December to a destination yet to be decided. Anyone is welcome to join them as a passenger as space permits.
The club meets formally twice every semester and informally once per month. Many of the members are Ph.D. and master’s degree students primarily in robotics or computer science, however as the club grows, Patrikar is seeing an increasing number of undergraduate students joining.
“It’s been pretty rewarding to see all of the enthusiasm coming from campus,” Patrikar said.
For more information, visit The Flying Club website.