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Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center a staple at Peterson AFB

Original Air Defense Command Aero Club members gather around the club’s first aircraft, the Cessna 140, at Peterson Field, Colorado, in 1951. In the 66 years since its establishment, the aero club had officially become a Federal Aviation Administration Part 141 school, causing the club’s name to be changed to the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center.  VIRIN reflects date photo digitally archived.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Original Air Defense Command Aero Club members gather around the club’s first aircraft, the Cessna 140, at Peterson Field, Colorado, in 1951. In the 66 years since its establishment, the aero club had officially become a Federal Aviation Administration Part 141 school, causing the club’s name to be changed to the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center. VIRIN reflects date photo digitally archived. (courtesy photo)

Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, houses seven planes, March 20, 2017, belonging to the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center. The training center was one of the first of its kind when it was established in 1951.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, houses seven planes, March 20, 2017, belonging to the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center. The training center was one of the first of its kind when it was established in 1951. (U.S. Air Force photo by Shellie-Anne Espinosa)

The 1965 Beech 95-B55 aircraft sits in a corner of Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 20, 2017. This aircraft along with six others are part of the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center, which teaches people affiliated with the Department of Defense how to fly.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 1965 Beech 95-B55 aircraft sits in a corner of Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 20, 2017. This aircraft along with six others are part of the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center, which teaches people affiliated with the Department of Defense how to fly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Shellie-Anne Espinosa)

The 1967 Cessna R172E aircraft is parked in Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 20, 2017. This aircraft is one of seven aircraft the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center currently operational after the July 2016 hail storm that heavily damaged numerous aircraft.

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — The 1967 Cessna R172E aircraft is parked in Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, March 20, 2017. This aircraft is one of seven aircraft the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center currently operational after the July 2016 hail storm that heavily damaged numerous aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo by Shellie-Anne Espinosa)

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Nestled in Hangar 133 at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, is the Rocky Mountain United States Air Force Flight Training Center, formerly known as the Peterson AFB Aero club. The training center’s history began as the Aero Club at Pete Field in 1951 as one of the first aero clubs in the Air Force.

Back in 1948, Gen. Curtis LeMay, Strategic Air Command commander, saw a need for an aero club when he came across some Airmen tinkering with airplanes in hangars.

“LeMay said, ‘if they’re going to do this, then let’s do this right’,” said Greg Cortum, Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center manager and school director.

LeMay started the first aero club at Offut AFB, Nebraska, in 1951, with three more clubs, to include Peterson, starting shortly thereafter. The clubs focused on teaching members how to fly and how to do so safely. Cortum said the mission is the same today as it was 66 years ago.

“The mission is to give the lowest cost, most professional aircraft services school possible to support all the military and Department of Defense people,” said Cortum.

The Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center is now a Federal Aviation Administration Part 141 school, causing the aero club to be renamed a training center. At one point, there were 50 aero clubs and training centers in the Air Force. Cortum said now there are only 17 left.

The training center prides itself on safety. On the rare occasion that a plane malfunctions, the instructors make sure the students know what to do.

“We had a plane a couple of years ago that had an engine failure,” said Cortum. “He landed in a cow pasture out east, put a cover on it, gave me a call, and I got it right back.”

Cortum pointed out the Rocky Mountain USAF Flight Training Center’s safety record is three times better than the general aviation safety record.

“We have a really good reputation,” said Cortum. “It is known that any pilots we put out, because our name is attached to them, will be safe, great aviators.”

Today, the training center’s membership is at 220 members. The center has about 20 instructors and is looking to expand.

“I have more students than I have airplanes or instructors for, which is a good thing to have,” said Cortum.

In order to fly, you have to be a member of the training center. The membership dues are what pays for the insurance on the planes. The center is self-insured through the Air Force, but it usually costs them $3,000-$6,000 a month to insure their planes.

Currently, the training center has 13 planes. Only seven are operational, including the plane that was reskinned after the July 2016 hail storm. The remaining six are still awaiting repairs. Each one can cost upwards of $96,000 to reskin.

“You can’t buy these airplanes,” Cortum said. “Even though they’re Cessnas, they have big powerful engines that were made for the U.S. Air Force Academy. They used them for 20 to 30 years before all the aero clubs got them. They’re great airplanes.”

The training center supports various elements of the military in addition to teaching people how to fly. The planes are available to those who may need them in an emergency.

“If anything bad were to happen in the world, our aircraft are here to take the military folks where they need to go,” said Cortum.

NORAD and USNORTHCOM rent planes from the training center to do some of their missions. At one point in the history of the training center, this practice was stopped, however, Cortum helped to start this partnership back up seven years ago.

In addition to different commands using the planes for its missions, individuals are able to rent these aircraft to go on temporary duty assignments. Cortum said in the event these people can find a group to fly with them, the cost is significantly cheaper to the Air Force than flying commercial.

With 66 years under its belt, the Rocky Mountain Training Center is poised to be around for many more years as it continues to be a staple at Peterson. Cortum said this is all thanks to the generosity of others, from money that has helped with hail damage repairs to the donation of the planes themselves.

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