Robert McFadden of Robbinsville, a former Eagle Scout and a pilot for Air-Mods Flight Training Center, explains how airplane wings work to Joey Ondersin, Erik Lenhardt and Jiana Ondersin, who are from Hamilton, on June 25. Joey and Erik are working on an aviation badge with Boy Scout Troop 91. Jiana is Joey’s sister. Staff photo by Chris Sturgis.

By Chris Sturgis

David Mathiesen, owner of Air-Mods Flight Training Center, said the urge to fly was as natural as the urge to walk.

“When you’re a kid and you go by an airport, you look up and want to fly,” he said. “Everyone feels that way.”

However, not everyone who had that desire to leave terra firma studies for an aircraft mechanic license, becomes a pilot and goes into the aviation business, like Mathiesen, a native of Jackson.

Air-Mods manager Lisa Campbell said she became a pilot by a slightly different route.

“I was an Air Force brat, so I’ve always loved aviation,” she said.

Although years passed between the time when her family was stationed near bases in Montana and Washington state, she remained committed to aviation. When she moved to New Jersey, she joined the Civil Air Patrol unit at McGuire Air Force Base.

Air-Mods recently acquired the flight school and aircraft rental facility formerly operated by Northeast Aviation until a few weeks ago.

Air-Mods and Repair Inc. had been in business for years, modifying and repairing aircraft, Campbell said. New services include flight school in preparation for a pilot’s license and $60 discovery flights for people considering flight training. They also take passengers to view the countryside from an unusual new angle, he said.

Some pilots rent an airplane to get somewhere fast or just for a weekend jaunt.

“They will rent an aircraft for a day to fly down to Ocean City for lunch and then fly back. Other people will rent a plane to fly to a business meeting in Teterboro or Pennsylvania. They might just want to follow the Hudson River,” he said. Mathiesen estimated the training and flight time needed for a pilot license would cost about $4,500. He said a pilot must log 40 hours in the air, including 20 flying solo, to qualify for the license. That could be accomplished as quickly as five weeks, but there is no requirement that the training and flight time happen within a certain timeframe, he said.

The company has about 35 to 40 students and is seeking more. One way they are generating interest in flight careers is by hosting educational sessions for local children.

On June 25, ten or so members of Boy Scout Troop 91 from Hamilton learned what keeps aircraft aloft from Air-Mods pilots Robert McFadden and Robert Kearns.

The scouts were working toward a Merit Badge in aviation.

The Girl Scouts also have an aviation badge. Campbell said she knows more female pilots than she did a few years ago. Five women are now taking instruction or renting aircraft at Air-Mods, she said.

Female airline pilots make up about 5 percent of the total number worldwide, a number that has grown tremendously since the first one was hired in 1934, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots, which is located in Las Vegas. Generally, students take private flying lessons, but it would be possible for a group of students to take ground school classes together, Campbell said.

Most of the general aviation clients fly for enjoyment, but a few rent planes to cut down travel time to business meetings. Once a client is registered with Air-Mod they can log onto an Internet site and book a plane anytime, day or night, Campbell said.

Air-Mods also offers modified flight training for spouses who often accompany a pilot so they would be able to land the plane if the pilot became ill in flight.

Aircraft are rented hourly. The smaller planes cost $85 to $95 per hour to rent, but a 6-seater might be $350 per hour. Both prices include fuel. Campbell said the price of fuel for general aviation costs $5.35 per gallon. It’s price has not risen nearly as steeply as has gasoline for automobiles. Until recently, general aviation fuel was twice as expensive as gasoline, he said.

Campbell estimated a small plane uses about 8 gallons an hour, but a twin engine plane uses 32 gallons an hour.

Aircraft travel from place to place much faster than cars, so there are instances when Mathiesen said flying is actually quite economical.

“We go to Virginia and it’s almost cheaper to fly than drive if you have four people in the plane,” he said. “Time is money, and these are time machines,” he said.

In ground school pilots learn about weather, the meaning and relative danger of different cloud formations and the functions of the instruments and controls.

Two key controls are the ailerons, which control roll, and the elevators, which control pitch or attitude, he said.

Students must also learn Federal Aviation Regulations, what altitudes are allowed over populated areas and how to read the necessary charts.

Pilots must learn to make the pre-flight inspection of the aircraft, Mathiesen said. For example, a pilot must drain water or any other contaminants from the fuel, otherwise the engine will cough and buck just as an automobile would on bad gas.

“You don’t want to that to happen after take-off,” Mathiesen said.

Air-Mods is a testing center for CATS, Computer Assisted Training, so students can get certified as an airline transport pilot, or for visual flight rules or instrument flight rules.

Mathiesen said he is in the 26th year of his aviation career. He said he first worked as an aircraft mechanic at the Trenton-Robbinsville Airport, but founded Air-Mods at Raceway Park in Old Bridge in 1982.

He moved Air-Mods back to Robbinsville as soon as a hangar became available.

“It was kind of neat to be able to move my whole business to where my career began,” he said. For more information about Air-Mods Flight Training Center, 106-B Sharon Road, Robbinsville, call (609) 259-6877. Hours of operation are still being determined as the company makes the transition from aircraft repair to flight school.