"N3195N cleared for immediate takeoff," radioed the control tower. In the Harvard Flying Club's Cessna 120, N. De J. Portocarrero '61 taxied on to the runway and pulled back the throttle. Seconds later, the two-seater left Bedford Airport, making a wide turn toward Cambridge. As the plane droned over route 128 and the lakes and farms of Lexington, Portocarrero explained the instrument panel: airspeed--100 m.p.m., direction--south-east, altitude--1500 feet.
Over the College
Over Cambridge, even at this height, it was possible to watch football plays in the stadium, and to see students walking in the Square. Only Widener's bulk and the graceful spire of Memorial Church broke the leafy roof of the Yard. Flying from Bedford to Cambridge and back takes only a few minutes, but it offers a delightful perspective on the University's architecture and layout--the bold patterns of Quincy and Leverett Towers, for example, and the pleasing sweep of the riverfront Houses.
Although an air of the modern surrounds its activities, the Flying Club's history traces back to 1911, when an intrepid group of undergraduates--truly "pioneers"--formed the Harvard Aviation Foundation. Only eight years after Kitty Hawk, their statement of purpose outlined a bold program in the infant field:
"To promote, hold, manage and direct aviation meets, exhibitions and contests of all sorts; to encourage and develop aviation; to manufacture, buy, sell and deal in balloons, aeroplanes and any and all machines, vehicles and contrivances for the navigation of the air...."
No More Balloons
Over the past five decades, the Club's purpose has remained broad, except, says President David C. D'Costa '60, "the group is no longer much interested in flying balloons or manufacturing airplanes." At present the group flies a couple of two-seaters: a newly acquired Luscombe 8F, and the Cessna 120 rented fulltime "at highly favorable rates."
As undergraduate interest in flying has varied over the years, the Club has adjusted to meet the demand. In 1948, when it had over 100 members--including many exservicemen eager to continue or learn to fly--the Club owned three planes.
This year D'Costa hopes to add 35 new members to the ten returning students, who now form the Club's core. With a larger membership, fixed expenses can be spread more thinly, and experience has shown that around 45 members will keep both planes fully scheduled on good flying days.
Although perhaps a quarter of this year's members will already hold their Private Pilots Rating, says D'Costa, the Club is primarily for those "who haven't flown and would like to fly." While he discourages applicants whom he thinks are merely "joyriders," D'Costa welcomes students whose interest in learning to fly is serious and likely to last.
Unless he joins with previous experience, the new members's first step is to secure a Student Pilot Certificate, restricted to those 16 years or older, who know English and have at least 20/30 corrected vision in each eye. Since learning to fly is not like driving a car--for an aviator cannot stop to think things over--ground instruction is required before the student goes aloft.
The Club's advisors--Lt. N. M. Tollefson of the Navy ROTC, and Capt. O'Connor of the Air Force ROTC unit--run a weekly ground school where members can study weather, navigation, care of aircraft, and civil flight regulations.
Then the student makes his first flight, with an professional instructor who drills him on takeoffs, turns, approaches, landings, and other maneuvers. After a minimum of eight flying hours, when the instructor is satisfied that his tutee will be no danger either to himself or the surrounding community, he issues a solo license.
Single flights and more dual work follow, along with cross-country trips, perhaps to New Bedford. It is up to the student to set his own pace. When he has logged a minimum of 45 hours in the air, he becomes eligible to take the government examination for his Private Pilot's License, which entitles him to carry passengers.
Like other forms of education, learning to fly is not inexpensive. Even though the Club owns one plane and rents its other at low rates, the expenses--of frequent mechanical check-ups, of hanger space and steep insurance rates--add up. The yearly Club membership fee is $45. Each hour in the air costs $7 in the Cessna 120, and $9.50 in the Luscombe 8F. Since all members are expected to fly a minimum of one hour per month during the seven hour per month during the seven month school year, the minimum annual cost of belonging totals almost $100. Flying additional hours adds to the cost, of course, but, because of the fixed membership fee, make each hour flown less expensive.
Although one member, George F. Baker '61, holds an Instructor's License, and gives as much free help as possible to new members, a professional instructor must be hired for the rest of the time. The standard fee is $5 for each hour in the air.
Pleasure and Utility
In view of the not insignificant money and time involved, says D'Costa, the question is: "why fly?" First, it's fun. Though members may find it difficult to articulate their enthusiasm, a Club bulletin spoke touchingly of "deep spiritual satisfactions." Second, knowing how to fly can be a valuable skill--professionally, perhaps, and certainly as a hobby.
Good Safety Record
In addition to questions of time and finance, some students have asked about the safety of a light plane. "Flying yourself," answers D'Costa, "is certainly far safer than driving in Boston or taking a nocturnal walk beside the Charles." The Club's safety record has been excellent: a professional company, East Coast Aviation, regularly services the plane; no one is allowed to take off unless weather conditions are judged safe, usually "C.A.V.U." (ceiling and visibility unlimited); and a member may solo only after both his instructor and the club officers are sure of his ability to cope with whatever situations might arise.
The Club could not exist as a well equipped and active group were it not for a group of University graduates who form the Harvard Aviation Foundation, an advisory board for the club. It is the Foundation, not the Club, which actually holds ownership of the new Luscombe 8F; and the advice of Foundation members, many of whom are prominent in aviation circles, guides Club policies.
As a service to the University community, the Club last spring offered a charter flight service on an informal non-profit basis. The pilot and his passengers divided costs, giving passenger an inexpensive trip, and the pilot more hours logged toward his commercial rating. Although requests were heavy, only a half dozen flights could be arranged, because of flying conditions and scheduling problems. This year, charter flights will be dropped, except, perhaps, on an informal basis.
But the central activity--"furnishing Harvard men with an opportunity to fly themselves"--continues, and any student who wants to become a pilot, whether or not he has ever been off the ground, is welcome in the Club. It is not a sport for the indolent, but to those who are serius, flying offers real satisfactions.