By Matt Roy, Independent Newsmedia
Anyone up for a $100 plate of pancakes? Drop a Benjamin on a burger?
These questions might choke some, but not the members of the West Valley Flying Club, who met for their weekly, year-round breakfast meeting July 6 at the Something Special Aviation Café in the Glendale Municipal Airport, 6801 N. Glen Harbor Blvd.
“You ‘fly out’ for the $100 pancakes,” said Sun City resident Brian Baker with a wry, baritone chuckle.
One of four generations of fliers, he has been a pilot and certified flight trainer since the late 1950s.
The $100 pancakes — morning version of the also-popular $100 hamburger — is the ironic description club members give to “fly outs,” which are short flights to other municipal airports around the state, including stopovers in Winslow, Payson, Sedona, Deer Valley, Casa Grande, Tucson, Marana, Sedona, Flagstaff and Laughlin, Nevada, to name a few.
On such hops, private-plane pilots and passengers fly from either the Glendale or Phoenix-Deer Valley airports to choice destinations, where they enjoy a bite at the local airport’s diner and return home. Like the group’s Thursday breakfast get-togethers, the flights offer a chance to socialize and share their passion for aircraft and flight. With associated fees, fuel and maintenance, the cost is not always so much.
“Maybe just a $50 hamburger sometimes,” said Glen Bigelow, a longtime club member.
He stressed the open nature of the group, which welcomes anyone with a passion for flight, regardless of experience.
“It’s a social club,” he added.
With more than 120 active members, the club hosts pilots and aficionados from across the West Valley, including Surprise, Sun City West, Sun City, Peoria, Glendale, Phoenix, Goodyear and elsewhere. The group has been meeting for nearly 15 years and welcomes anyone to join for an annual fee of $20.
“Our members are a friendly group of people that range from airline pilots to people who have never flown a plane, but are interested in aviation,” reads a message on the club’s website.
Kevin Stokes participates weekly. A former log-hauling trucker, he lost sight in one eye in a traffic accident and cannot pilot an aircraft. Today, he is a professional aircraft mechanic who enjoys the camaraderie of his pilot pals.
The group’s many activities include monthly dinner meetings, which sometimes feature expert guest speakers. The club also hosts hangar parties, holiday get-togethers and barbecues throughout the year.
Mike Gordon of Surprise has been with the group more than a decade and served as its president for four years. A former building contractor, he recalled when he first joined, when the club had only a few members.
“Today we’ve got members from across the Valley,” Mr. Gordon said. “It all started with seven people.”
According to Joe Kildea, senior communications director at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, aviation is a valid pursuit for young and old alike.
“Aviation has opportunities for folks of all ages. Whether you are a young person working towards earning your private pilot’s license and eventually a career in the airlines, or a retiree learning to fly as a sport pilot to visit friends and family, aviation has something to offer everyone,” Mr. Kildea stated by email. “Flying clubs are also a great way for aviators to share costs as well as the fun of flying.”
He said nearly 33 percent of active pilots in the U.S. are 55 or older. The association’s website offers, among a wide array of information, a comprehensive guide to getting involved in flying, including a national network of flying clubs, how “rusty” pilots can re-certify, flight schools and other resources for those who want to learn to fly.