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Milwaukee flying club soaring to new heights after 51 years

"It is a testament to what a small group of people can accomplish when they are passionate."
Posted at 3:47 PM, May 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-04 19:31:08-04

MILWAUKEE — After 51 years, a Milwaukee club is soaring to new heights, literally. Panther Aero Flying Club is a group of aviation aficionados in Milwaukee.

"You can go anywhere you want. You can fly as high as you want," Nathan Weiss, a newly licensed pilot and member of the club, said.

Nathan Weiss flies the Skyhawk II, one of the Panther Aero Flying Club’s planes.

Weiss is one of the group's newest pilots. To celebrate getting his license, the 21-year-old flew all the way down to Florida.

"Freedom. It's just pure freedom," Weiss said about the feeling he gets when flying.

The club helps people like Weiss become pilots. It was formed in 1971 by UW-Milwaukee students who wanted to learn how to fly without going through an expensive commercial flight school. With the help of a few already licensed flight instructors, the inaugural group was formed with 35 student members. The whole goal is to provide low-cost flight training to hobbyists. They fly out of General Mitchell International Airport.

Skyhawk, roughly 50 years old, is one of the Panther Aero Flying Club’s planes.

Relatively speaking, the club is a cheaper option than other flight schools. The flight instructors are certified, but not paid. That goes a long way to decrease the price for this non-profit. Initial club dues are $500. Then there are monthly fees of $50 and flying costs are $80 per hour.

“Well it's to provide low cost recreational flying to ordinary people," James Heinz, who was one president of the club, said about the group's mission.

For him, the thrill he gets flying is worth every penny.

"When you’re going down the runway, and you pull back the control stick, and the plane comes up, I still have the same thought every time. No,w the magic begins," he said.

The group became very popular in the 1980s. According to group president Jamey Curry in an email, Panther Aero was logging 1,000 flight hours per year. They even were turning out private, commercial, and military pilots.

flying club
Nathan Weiss prepares to land his Cessna aircraft at the Mitchell airport.

The group's membership has fluctuated over the years. At one point, Curry mentioned that there were almost zero members. But now the group is thriving with about 20 members and more joining every year. The current members and pilots range from retired Navy navigators to a Woodman's grocery store clerk. It's not just the group size that's growing, so too is the fleet.

“We are upgrading our airplanes and we hope in the near future to buy a third airplane," Heinz said.

Currently, there is a shortage of airline pilots, and Nathan wants to be part of that future and hopes to inspire more young aviators.

“I really hope that we can get new pilots into it," he said.

He wants to give them the same feeling he has when he is high in the sky.

“You know something about being free of the ground is beautiful.”

Anyone can sign up to be part of the group. Go to the Panther Aero website, to learn more and sign up.

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