The air up there: Sparrow Flying Club makes aviation accessible

But flying in the real world is costly – not a hobby that’s accessible for everyone. The Sparrow Flying Club in Conway gives aviation hopefuls the chance to learn how to fly at a fraction of the cost.

“One of the reasons I started the flying club here is because our community needed it,” David Jones said. “For me to do what I do now, I had to move to Colorado to go to aviation school. I couldn’t do it here. That was the motivation for starting the club. It provides a service – an avenue for people that want to fly to be able to learn.”

Jones, 45, and a business partner co-founded the Sparrow Flying Club in June 2008. The club boasts about 50 members, plus almost 20 instructors. Membership gives access to the club’s seven small aircrafts, among other benefits.

“Just in dollars and cents, the club makes flying more accessible to the everyday person because it helps reduce the cost,” Jones said. “Like any hobby, there are expenses associated with it – initial and recurring costs. If you’re into boating, first you have to get a boat. Then you have costs maintaining it, docking it and winterizing it. But expenses are minimized by being a part of a club.”

The initial fee to join the club is $300, with monthly dues of $39. Members can work with instructors to obtain a variety of licenses, including private or commercial. The Sparrow Flying Club is also the only place in Central Arkansas that offers training for a sports pilot license.

“If you have a commercial or private license, part of the requirement is that you have a medical certificate,” Jones said. “But with a sports pilot license, you don’t have to have that certificate. There are other qualifications, but that is one of the big differences. We have several club members that for whatever reason don’t want to renew their medical certificate, but they still want to be able to fly. Flying with a sports pilot license let’s them continue flying.

“Adding the sports license was a good idea on FAA’s part. It doesn’t take as many hours to obtain, and that reduces the cost, too. The sports class plane we have is built of composite fiber instead of aluminum. It’s very lightweight and can fly 800 nautical miles non-stop. It will go a long way without stopping. It’s proven to be a good training aircraft and fun airplane to fly.”

Six of the seven planes available at the club are Cessna makes. The club’s main location is at Cantrell Field in Conway, but it also has a location in Saline County. Jones hopes to add a location in North Little Rock soon.

The minimum number of training hours needed to obtain a sports pilot license is 20, and 40 for a private pilot license.

“The bigger thing is that you must obtain the skill level to be able to fly the plane,” Jones said. “It’s not just the minimum training hours. Individual ability determines how long it will take to get your license. A person should expect to spend a minimum of around $3,500 while working to get a sports pilot license and around $7,000 to get a private pilot license.”

Training is broken down into three phases: Pre-solo – the process of actually learning to fly; Cross Country – learning how to fly somewhere; and Check Ride – preparing for the final test.

“There are preconceived notions that getting a pilot’s license will be as easy as it is to get a driver’s license,” Jones said. “People have to come to terms with the fact that it will take longer. It’s more complicated, but it is rewarding. I enjoy taking somebody who knows nothing about flying and helping them get their license.

“Generally anyone that’s not legally blind can get a pilot’s license. Even a deaf pilot can get a license with some restrictions. Color blind pilots can fly, too, with restrictions. There’s even a girl in California that has a sports pilot license and has no arms. She uses her feet for everything.”
Jones has been flying for more than 20 years.

“It was June 1983 when I realized I wanted to be a pilot,” he said. “I had just graduated from high school, and I was working a full-time job. It was one of those hot summer days. I looked up and saw an airplane buzz over. That’s when I started working my way to my license.

“I took my first lesson in ’84 and got my private license in ’88. I got it in a blazing speed of four years. I had one student who got his in five weeks. Getting your license comes down to three things: Time, money and sheer determination. For me, it was a money issue. I had to work a little, fly a little until I got it all done.”

Jones now works as a private pilot for a corporation. He’s flown in all 50 states, and on one business trip, around the world.

“I want people to know that as expensive as we think it is to get a pilot license, it’s cheaper here than anywhere else in the world,” Jones said. “The U.S. leads the aviation industry worldwide. If you’re waiting because you’re expecting the price to come down, it ain’t gonna happen.”
Jones also understands the fear some people associate with flying.

“There is a stigma, especially with small airplanes,” he said. “But all kinds of things can stop you. The most dangerous part of flying is driving to the airport. There are a lot of idiots on the road, but there’s a lot less idiots in the air because most of them are weeded out during the process of getting a license.

“Your job as a student is to try to kill me. My job is to not let you. I have to allow the student to go right to the edge, so that they learn what they can’t do. Most people think that if the engine fails, then they’re going to die. That’s far from the case. People are afraid of what they don’t know. The truth is – when you get in that situation again – you won’t freeze up because you’ve seen it before. You need to make mistakes

in training. Sometimes it’s too traumatic, and you decide to not continue flying. In that case, discretion is the better part of valor.”

Jones says he’s had some close calls in the air, but safety has always got him and his students through.
“I once had a student land on what’s now Home Depot,” he said. “It was Elsinger Dairy. One of my 16-year-old students had engine problems. We were in the pattern to make a landing across the interstate, but we didn’t have enough altitude to make Runway 26. His engine had quit, and he elected to land in the dairy farm.

“He did a great job, and we walked away from the plane. We made the repairs and flew the plane off of Elsinger Dairy across the interstate to land it at the airport. That’s an example of a person who made good decisions, used what he had learned and did what it took to be able to take off again. Takeoff is optional. Landing is mandatory.”

The club offers “Discovery Flights” for $60 for people interested in pursuing a pilot’s license. The “Discovery Flight” gives instructors a chance to talk one-on-one with potential students and get them in the air. For more information on the Sparrow Flying Club, visit or call Jones at 501.908.0224.

“There’s no age limit on how long you can fly,” Jones said. “If you’re in your 80s and you want to get started, if you think you can – go for it. I have generations of pilots. My students have gone and got their instructor ratings and had their own students. It’s a family tree. There’s a lot of neat things in that.

“I’m very lucky. I get to wake up every day and do something I love to do – flying.”