After 60 years as a licensed pilot – 50 of them as a certified flight instructor – Richard Willis said he doesn’t know how many people he’s taught to fly airplanes.
A lot would be the 81-year-old Galloway resident’s best guess.
“Couple hundred, anyway,” he said.
Since 1975, when he left the U.S. Air Force where he served as a navigator, Willis has done his teaching through the New Flyers Association, based at the Ohio State University Airport in northwest Columbus.
The organization specializes in light sport aircraft focusing on modern avionics, speed and efficiency According to its website newflyers.net.
Small is the right word. The two-seaters weigh no more than 1,320 pounds. They usually have 100-horsepower engines and a maximum flying speed of 138 mph, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.
A pilot’s license for these aircraft only requires 20 hours of flying time, according to Rae Case, Willis’ wife and the owner of 3 1/2 of the New Flyers Association’s five light sport planes.
She described them as the perfect way for fledgling pilots to get their start toward an eventual commercial license or for “rusty pilots” to get back into the air.
“People who get flying in their blood don’t seem to get it out,” said Case, 76.
Case said she had no interest in aviation at all, until she married Willis five years ago.
The New Flyers Association was originally called the National Flyers Association when it came into existence in 1968, Willis said.
Tim Edwards, now retired and living in Arizona, was an OSU student interested in aviation at the time.
He and 10 friends each put in $1,000 to buy a Cessna 150, and the organization got its start, according to Willis.
The name was changed 11 years ago during a reorganization.
The cost for a flight on one of the New Flyers Association’s light sport aircraft is $134 to the general public, $124 for association members and guests, the website states.
Willis said that is based on the cost of the aircraft, operational expenses, hangar space and maintenance, according to Willis.
Willis said his involvement in what was then the National Flyers Association came about when he wanted to rent a plane to take his then-wife and mother-in-law to a wedding in Philadelphia.
He latched on with the sports aviation organization, and has been with it ever since.
“I don’t know how to do anything else,” Willis protested.
“He still loves teaching people to fly,” Case said. “I’m sure he’s launched a lot of careers.”
Willis maintains anyone can be taught to fly, but it comes more naturally to some.
“Usually you can tell,” he said, “if they’re not anxious, if they’re relaxed in the airplane.
“With some others, it takes five hours or more of flying for them to get used to it, to start to relax.
“If you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you can learn to fly,” Willis said.
“But some people take a heck of a lot more work before they can be safe to fly on their own.”
Although activity at the New Flyers Association is pretty steady, Willis said, “With flying, everything is up and down, up and down.”