FORT LEONARD WOOD, Mo. — While it seems like Fort Leonard Wood is mostly known as a military training location, there are lots of other, non-military training opportunities available here for service members, their families, retirees and pretty much anyone with access to the installation.
One new skill people can look into while they are here is flying, and the on-post, joint-use Waynesville-St. Robert Regional Airport — which also goes by the name Forney Airfield — is a good place to start.
According to Ronald Williams, one of two certified flight instructors available here, Fort Leonard Wood’s airfield is the perfect place to begin the process of becoming a pilot.
“It’s a pretty quiet location with a lot of open airspace,” he said.
Williams said would-be pilots can earn a private pilot’s license, which allows individuals to fly VFR, or under visual flight rules — basically, a set of regulations under which a pilot operates an aircraft in weather conditions generally clear enough to allow the pilot to see where the aircraft is going. The instructors here can also certify individuals as instrument rated, which means they are allowed to fly in clouds or after dark. The licenses are recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration and are therefore valid in all 50 U.S. states.
For 1st Lt. Joshua Hood, a Captains Career Course student with Company C, 554th Engineer Battalion, the flexible schedule of the instructors makes the process of pursuing his flight certifications “100 percent user friendly.”
Hood, who said he would like to one day work in the aviation industry, started taking flight lessons here about three months ago.
“The two instructors are willing to work around my schedule,” he said.
Flying is something Hood said he always wanted to learn how to do.
“I really like the thrill of it all — the independence when you’re up in the air,” he said.
A pilot’s license requires 40 hours of flight training, along with written and oral tests and a physical exam. While it’s a fairly expensive process to become a pilot — Williams said it’s a good idea to budget at least $10,000 from start to finish — the opportunities are nearly limitless.
“Most people think the track is you get all your licenses and you go straight to the airlines, but there are other avenues you can go down,” he said. “You can do freight, you can do aerial tours, aerial surveys — there are a lot of different careers out there in aviation and the community is really welcoming and unique.”
In addition to flight lessons, the instructors here offer what are called discovery flights. During the 30- to 45-minute flights, which occur at an altitude anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 feet, passengers can request to see their home from the air, for example, and get to briefly take control of the aircraft — a four-seat Cessna 172 Skyhawk.
“I try to make it as much of a hands-on experience as possible,” Williams said. “One of the most popular things people get excited about, though, is seeing the post from an aerial view. I know we’re pretty unique in that we’re surrounded by trees, but you don’t really grasp the concept until you can see nothing but trees in every direction.”
While maneuvers such as barrel rolls are out during discovery flights, Williams likes to perform what he calls “the falling leaf” for would-be daredevils.
“You get (the aircraft) right at stall, and you just drop slowly, kind of like a falling leaf,” he said.
When he’s not instructing or flying, Williams — who holds an aeronautical science degree from Embry-Riddle University — is one of just two aviation-focused civilians currently enrolled in the Army Fellows Program.
The two-year developmental training program allows top civilian talent to progress from entry-level positions to more advanced key positions within the Army civilian workforce. Upon successful completion of the program, fellows are offered permanent placement.
Here, Williams is training as an airfield operations specialist, basically assisting the air traffic controllers to make sure the airfield is ready for aircraft.
“It’s anything the tower needs on the ground,” he said. “We make sure the runway is OK; we coordinate with ATC, make sure we can talk.”
Like with flight training, the quiet nature of the airfield here makes Fort Leonard Wood an ideal location to learn the ins and outs of airfield operations, Williams said.
“I’ve had plenty of time to learn here,” he said. “It’s a great location.”
Private flights and training are operated out of Bldg. 5017, the fixed-base operator facility, just south of the commercial terminal and the tower. For more information on flying opportunities here, call 573.329.4216.