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Flying lessons give residents the opportunity to earn their wings
pilot lessons pic
The Turlock Municipal Airport is now offering flying lessons through Skyview Aviation. - photo by Journal file photo

In years past, prospective pilots in Turlock had to travel to nearby cities like Modesto and Merced to receive flying lessons, but now, those interested in taking to the skies can learn how to do so at the Turlock Municipal Airport.

The airport recently entered into a contract with Skyview Aviation, and the company provides fixed base operations for services such as aircraft rental, maintenance and flight instruction. According to Turlock Regional Aviation Association President Todd Smith, Skyview is slowly building a base of students in the area to instruct.

“We have a handful at the present time,” said Smith. “It’s one of those things that take time, but they’ve been offering lessons for a few months now so it’s increasing.”

The Turlock airport offered flight lessons in the past thanks to former airport manager Otis Mercer, who not only managed the airport on site, but also served as a fixed base operator, providing aircraft and instructors for lessons, renting out aircrafts and supplying maintenance services.

“As he got older, it became more difficult for him,” said Smith. “When he passed, all of those things went away.”

Around two years ago, local pilot Robert Zylstra served as a key flight instructor for Skyview while living in Turlock. He got tired of commuting from Turlock to Skyview’s location in Tracy, so he approached the company to see if they would like to open a division in Turlock. There, he planned on serving as a flight instructor but never got the chance.

Zylstra passed away while on vacation in Peru with his family last year after contractual negotiations with Skyview had already been completed, leaving the Turlock Airport with the task of finding a new instructor. Now, an instructor from Oakdale travels to Turlock in order to help residents learn to fly.

“It’s slowly building,” said Smith. “What we like is that Skyview has an existing operation which has been in business for a while, so they’re not relying on the Turlock airport to be their main source of income.”

Flight lessons at the Turlock Municipal Airport cost $95 per hour for the aircraft, a Cessna 152, and fuel. It costs an additional $49 per hour for the instructor.

“For the area, the prices are very reasonable,” said Smith.

The objective of taking flying lessons is to eventually obtain a private flying license. To do so, students must complete 40 hours of flight instruction – 20 hours with the flight instructor and 20 hours of solo flying. While flying alone, students are responsible for completing a variety of tasks, such as cross-country flights, flying at night, take offs and landings.

“In as little as five to 10 hours of instruction, you can be flying the plane alone,” said Smith. “It’s probably one of the most exhilarating things in life to take the plane up by yourself.”

Future pilots must also attend ground school in addition to flying lessons, where they learn the fundamentals of flight, including navigation, communication, rules and regulations, weather and air traffic control.

“There’s a litany of things you have to learn about the environment you’ll be flying in,” said Smith.

After completing both ground school and 40 hours of flight instruction, the student is eligible to take the Federal Aviation Administration practical test, more commonly known as a checkride. This is the examination the student must undergo and pass in order to receive their private license, and is a combination of both oral and practical testing on what the student has learned.

Smith compared the practical test to the test one takes before receiving their driver’s license, but pointed out that flying a plane and driving a car are two very different things.

“In driving, you’re operating in a two-axis environment: forward, backward, left and right,” he said. “In an airplane, you’re operating in a three-axis environment: forward, backward, left, right, up and down. You’re operating in a world that takes more coordination.”

To receive a private flying license, one must be 16 years of age. But, lessons can begin at any age.

“Lessons can begin as early as you want, as long as your body is big enough to reach the pedals and see out the window,” said Smith.

Many people who take flying lessons are what Smith refers to as “weekend warriors,” or pilots who own aircraft and fly for personal reasons, such as to visit family or travel on vacation. Others are interested in earning their private flying license for other reasons, such as business. The Turlock Municipal Airport houses planes belonging to professional acrobatic pilots and others who use flying as a way to travel and make a living.

With the addition of fixed base operations at the Turlock Municipal Airport, opportunities like flight lessons have become a reality for Turlock residents. Next, Smith hopes to use federal FAA funding to transform the airport with runway renovations, new lighting and other restorations to further help its development.

“This airport is here in little old Turlock, and we have the opportunity to turn it into something great,” said Smith.

To book a flight lesson in Turlock, visit