Conquering the Skies: Shelbyville Flight Academy Soars Into 2020 Season
January 8, 2020
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  • This is the first installment of two articles on “business as usual” at Shelbyville Municipal Airport.

    Reflecting on their years of experience as licensed pilots, Joe and Linda Roberts both say it’s still safer to fly a plane than to drive an automobile.

    The National Safety Council has reported that Americans in a lifetime have a one in 100 chance of actually dying in a car wreck versus a one in about 8,000 chance of dying in a plane crash.

    Despite national odds or statistics, the Roberts never falter from doing what they love, which is sharing with people the art of flying. So much so, they opened Shelbyville Flight Academy a few years ago, which is still going strong.

    Next class

    The academy will start yet another ground flight school Jan. 21 at Shelbyville Municipal Airport on U.S. 231 North. Classes are held on Tuesday nights and run for 12-14 weeks. An open house is planned 1 to 3 p.m. Jan. 18 at the airport.

    As an incentive, Shelbyville Flight Academy still offers an introductory flight for $99. The potential student can bring two friends along for the ride for that price.

    “We have five flight instructors on board,” said Joe, who serves as the academy’s chief flight instructor.

    Joe is a winner of the FAA’s prestigious FAA Wright Brothers Award. He has served as designated pilot examiner for both Bradley Flight Standards District Office in Connecticut and Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.

    All ages

    People of all ages have enrolled in Shelbyville Flight Academy. No, flight students don’t have to be a particular age before they can enroll in ground school, said Joe.

    Linda adds, “However, you do have to be at least 16 years old before you can solo an airplane and 17 before you can be issued a private pilot certificate.”

    Joe does prefer the more dedicated and mature student; he said there’s a lot to learn before a student solos. Becoming a licensed pilot can also involve a fair share of expense.

    A student pilot, based on about 50 hours of flight time, can spend anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000, due to aircraft rentals, instructor fees, and FAA required test costs.


    The cost of ground flight instruction is $399, according to the Roberts. Students receive a Gleim private pilot kit, which contains the books and supplies needed to take a student through to final check ride.

    Even so, Shelbyville Flight Academy has graduated its fair share of pilots. The academy is beginning to see more female graduates, according to Linda.

    Newly enrolled flight students this month will need to provide their instructor with a government-issued photo identification and proof of citizenship. Foreign students must be approved by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) before they can begin training.

    When applying for a student pilot certificate, Shelbyville Flight Academy staff will process the application through the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application website.

    “You should do this when you first start training,” said Joe, “as it can take up to three weeks for the Federal Aviation Administration to approve and return the certificate. You are not allowed to fly solo until you are approved.”


    Student pilots will also need to obtain an FAA medical certificate before flying alone. Academy staff can provide students with a list of FAA-approved medical providers in the area.

    “You should schedule an appointment at the beginning of your training,” said Joe, “as they are sometimes heavily booked.”

    Prospective pilots must pass the FAA pilot knowledge test with a score of 70% or better. The test is administered at an FAA-designated computer testing center and consists of 60 multiple choice questions.

    “Our aviation ground school will prepare you to pass this test. We recommend you schedule your test as soon as you complete ground school.”

    Air time

    For a non-career, that is, private pilot certificate, a flight student must receive a minimum of 40 hours of flight time, including a minimum of 10 hours of solo flight time. While this is the minimum requirement, the Roberts note that the national average is about 55 flight hours.

    The FAA requires a minimum 1,500 flight hours to fly as an airline pilot, which can generally be earned in about two years.

    Academy students must also successfully complete a practical flight test, which will be given by a designated pilot examiner.

    “Each of the required tasks/maneuvers will be demonstrated and explained by flight instructors during final hours of prep time before a student’s scheduled check ride,” said Joe.

    While this is a brief overview of the requirements to obtain a private pilot license, Linda notes each student is allowed to progress at his or her own pace. The length of time and cost will really depend on the individual.

    “We strongly recommend our students attend our ground school to gain a working knowledge of the aviation environment and fly at least once a week to reinforce each newly-acquired skill.”

    Ready to go

    Shelbyville Flight Academy currently operates four Cessna 150s, two Cessna 172s and a Bonanza. The 150s rent for $90 per hour and instructor fees are $45. The 172s rent for $135 to $155 per hour.

    “You can start flying any time. We’re almost always at the airport on Saturday and Sunday afternoons,” said Joe, and he can meet a potential student other times by appointment.

    For questions, information or to schedule an introductory flight lesson, call 615-233-5301.

    The Roberts note that Shelbyville Municipal Airport is currently vying for the new “People’s Choice Award” through Tennessee Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics Division. The public may cast a vote for “favorite airport” at www.tns.gov/tdot/aeronautics/tn-airport-award before Jan. 15. See the academy’s Facebook page for more details. The winner will be announced in March at a state conference.

    Conquering the skies

    Planes of various sizes and styles are available to students enrolled in Shelbyville Flight Academy at Shelbyville Municipal Airport. A student must be at least 17 years of age to earn a pilot’s license.

    The Times Gazette published an article last August about Staci Brock and several other women enrolled in Shelbyville Flight Academy. Well, the day has finally arrived for Staci; she recently accepted her private pilot’s license from Tyler Watkins, academy certified instructor. Stacy has worked as a flight attendant, studies aerospace and has the desire to one day become a professional pilot.