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Learn to fly: Aquarius Flying Club seeks aviation enthusiasts

by Airman Staff Sgt. Chance Babin
Thunderbolt staff writer

Flying 2,200 feet above central Florida, the captain looks out over the horizon and the abundant countryside on a recent flight between Zephyrhills and Sebring. "It doesn't get any better than this" he said, adding that for the last 10 years he hasn't been able to see this amazing view, at least not from the cockpit.

For Army Capt. Brian Smith, 6th Security Forces Squadron, the urge to get back in the air was always there, but it was the inexpensive opportunity afforded by the Aquarius Flying Club that actually got him back behind the stick. "I got my private pilots license in 1989," Smith said. "I actually learned to fly before getting my drivers license. I acquired about 100 hours flying until 1990 when I went to school at West Point (U.S. Military Academy) and didn't have time to fly anymore."

Because the Aquarius Flying Club is a non-profit organization, it is able to provide lower prices than fixed base operations, which are for profit. It was because of these low prices that Smith was enticed to join the club and get back in the air.

"You can't beat their prices," Smith said. "If you're looking to get a pilots license, this is the place to do it. They're 40 to 50 percent less than most places."

Aquarius Flying Club, located at the Vandenberg Airport in Tampa, is owned and operated by Darryl Fiorillo. Fiorillo has been an aviation enthusiast since he attained his private pilots license from a flying club at the now closed Chanute Air Force Base, Ill. He served in the Air Force for four years in the late 1960s. He has since retired from two successful careers in the construction and real estate business but he acknowledges retirement at home isn't for him.

"I was retired and I always wanted to open a flying club," Fiorillo said. "I needed something to keep me from being bored and I wanted to spend my money on something that I enjoy."

Part of the enjoyment for Fiorillo is getting to hang out and spend time with like-minded individuals. "We've got camaraderie with our members," he said. "We socialize, talk about aviation and share war stories, but we also have cookouts and have fun. It's also a social club. We want people to bring in their spouse and their children. It's a family environment."

But Fiorillo realizes that inexpensive prices are going to be what draws people to joining the club. Whether someone is already an experienced pilot or wants to learn to fly, Fiorillo boasts that they have the best aircraft prices in a 200 mile radius.

"We are interested in all pilots as well as new members who want to learn to fly," Fiorillo said. "Our club members enjoy full use of our facilities. We have two superbly maintained aircraft and the lowest prices in the Tampa area." Aquarius's instructor pilot is Darren Smith, who also teaches aviation and psychology at Hillsborough Community College on base.

"I noticed the club was forming so I went out there and talked to them and found out their philosophy and found that it was something unique to the Tampa area," Darren said. "Their concept is to fly at the least possible cost while maintaining safety."

As an aviation instructor who also teaches psychology, Darren has a different way of looking at teaching pilots. "Learning to fly is a very personal expression," he said. "All your fears, hopes and dreams come out in this. It's amazing to watch people grow as pilots. The most rewarding part is that I'll give people a skill they'll take with them forever."

Two courses Darren will be helping teach that are free for members is a ground school and a pinch-hitter course. The ground school is an eight- to 10-week course that teaches basic aviation skills and the instrumentation phase of flying. The pinch-hitter course is for spouses or family members.

"It teaches them to land and take off in an aircraft in the case of a medical emergency, like a heart attack, so they can land the aircraft without killing themselves," Fiorilla said.

For more information on the Aquarius Flying Club call 621-7333 or check their website at www.geocities.com/aquariusfc. "We have some good people here," Fiorilla said. "It's really taken off quicker than we expected." The club opened in February and currently has 22 members. Fiorilla's goal is to have 100 members. "Hopefully we can attract some members from the base to come out and see us."




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