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Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Open house offers 'discovery' flights to garner interest in flight school

UF students and Gainesville residents had the chance to gain a new perspective of UF on Saturday.

Evan Donoghue, a UF graduate student in physics, said everything looks different from 2,000 feet up in the air.

Donoghue participated in a "discovery flight" at the University Air Center's second-annual open house at Gainesville Regional Airport.

"Discovery" flights, which cost ,59 and lasted about 20 minutes, were the main attraction at the open house.

Participants were able to fly around Gainesville and over campus landmarks such as Century Tower and Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

"It was worth it," Donoghue said. "It was awesome to see the Swamp."

Bill Pokorny, general manager of the center, said the open house was held to generate interest in the center's flight school.

"We want people to come out and experience the thrill of flight," Pokorny said.

Between 100 and 150 people participated in the open house in 2006, and Pokorny said he expected a similar turnout this year.

Besides flying, attendees had the opportunity to learn how to obtain a pilot's license, view about 30 planes on display, tour the center, eat free food and use a Microsoft computer flight simulator.

Pokorny said the air center offered the open house as a community service, not a fundraiser.

The ,59 charge helped pay for the instructor's time, fuel and maintenance of the planes, but the actual cost of a "discovery" flight is about ,100.

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Operating the flight school is also more of a public service than a business, he said, and it usually breaks about even in costs each year.

Charles Morehead, a 22-year-old UF alumnus, was one of about five certified flight instructors from the center giving "discovery" flights on Saturday.

Pokorny said he wants more students to be pilots.

Flying can offer students a hobby outside the usual college party scene, he said."For all the money that students literally pour down their throats, you could spend ,6,000 to ,8,000 to get a private pilot's license," he said. "A lot of students spend that much just on drinking over four years."

Pokorny, who has flown for more than 30 years, said another perk of flying might appeal to students if the alternative to drinking doesn't.

"I flew my girlfriend to Cedar Key for lunch for under ,100," he said. "Talk about a way to impress your date."

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