Mishawaka Pilots Club Is Soaring on After More Than 70 Years
Writer / Lois Tomaszewski
Ever dream of flying? Sailing across the Michiana skies in a small airplane and seeing the land below in all its splendor? That dream becomes a reality for many local licensed pilots and those seeking to join their ranks.
The Mishawaka Pilots Club has been a gathering place and embarkation place for decades. It was founded in 1947. Through the years its mission has remained the same – provide a path to economical flight instruction, rental, and aircraft ownership.
On Father’s Day weekend the club hosted its annual fly-in, an event that has a long tradition according to member Brady Ornat. As many as 500 to 700 people and pilots have attended in previous years. Visitors get to interact with pilots, view a variety of planes and even take a flight on the Pilot Club’s Cessna. Proceeds support the club itself and the Jerry Thornton scholarship fund, which is awarded to a local college student enrolled in aviation studies.
The club also welcomes pilots on the third Wednesday of each month for the Burger Burn. This casual, picnic-style gathering serves two purposes for the club, Ornat says. The first is to provide fellowship and meaningful conversation among people who share similar passions, and the second is to help raise funds to modernize the airport.
The Mishawaka Pilots Club facility is located on Mishawaka Road in Elkhart. This is not the original field, but it has been home for the past 60 years. Originally, the club was located at the Mishawaka Capital Avenue airport, where Capital Avenue and Dragoon Trail intersect. The next location was at Sportsmen’s Park Airport on Day Road. It was forced to move again, briefly occupying the site that became the Osceola Drag Strip, according to an article posted on the club website.
After these experiences, the club acquired 65 acres of the Pancake Family Farm on County Road 20 in Elkhart. Members pitched in to build runways, a clubhouse and hangars. A well was drilled, and a gas pump and tanks installed. Fences were removed, the soil leveled, and grass grown.
In the 1960s improvements were made, including a solid-surface runway, runway lights, and electricity and telephone lines. More hangars were built as membership grew and improvements were made to the facility.
Today, the Mishawaka Pilots Club owns about 117 acres. Its membership hovers around 100 pilots and is home to approximately 65 airplanes including single-engine, multi-engine, ultralight, light sport, homebuilt crafts, and helicopters.
The burden of maintaining the airport is the responsibility of the club. The monthly Burger Burn events help to defray expenses such as a new clubhouse roof and siding, surface road and taxi-way repaving, routine two-year runway maintenance, repairs to equipment, and runway light replacement.
Runway light replacement alone costs $500 per light, says Board Member Dana Hupp. LED lights do not melt the ice and snow, and the wire cage around runway lights are heating elements, he says.
About 25% of the membership does not own their own plane, and some members own more than one, Hupp says.
“We are always trying to be a very affordable activity,” Ornat says. He is a pilot himself and the youngest member of the club, as well as being one of the flight instructors. “People don’t realize how affordable flying is and what an adventure it is,” he adds.
Becoming a licensed pilot includes compiling about 40 hours of flight time. That total includes a minimum of 10 hours of solo flight time, and 20 hours of flight training. It can cost about $10,000 to become licensed, including the flight hours.
People can begin learning to fly at any age. Pilots in training cannot fly solo before age 16 and cannot be licensed until 17. Flight lessons are available at the Mishawaka Pilots Club airport.
Hangar space is also available for purchase and can be customized to the owner’s styles.