In August 1945, weeks after Japan’s surrender marked the end of World War II, a group of Tech students gathered in Room 11 of the Aerospace Engineering Building to form a flying club. As an announcement in the Georgia Tech student newspaper, the Technique, put it, “There are a large number of Naval ROTC, veteran, and civilian fliers on the campus at the present time, and many other interested men want to learn to fly.”
The Yellow Jacket Flying Club (YJFC) is the oldest of its kind in the country. Members, alumni, and supporters had planned to celebrate the group’s 75th anniversary in 2020, but the pandemic made an in-person gathering impossible. Until now.
On Saturday, April 2, at the Delta Flight Museum, the celebration is finally happening.
“This anniversary is a milestone made possible by the dedication of countless students, alumni, flight instructors, maintenance staff, and more,” said Alec Liberman, a fourth-year aerospace engineering student from Newton, Massachusetts. “It means that there are people who are continuously passionate about the club and its success.”
Liberman began flying in high school, and the Yellow Jacket Flying Club was a major factor in his decision to attend Tech. He has been active in the organization since day one, earning both flight instructor and instrument flight instructor certificates as well as a commercial multi-engine rating through the club. He’s tallied nearly 300 hours on YJFC airplanes, and served as both treasurer and president of the YJFC. Along the way, he learned “crucial leadership skills,” from decision-making and conflict resolution to fundraising and public speaking. “I would not be the person and leader I am today had it not been for the YJFC,” he said.
The club welcomes members from all experience levels. And it’s not only open to students. Tech alumni, faculty, and staff can also participate, and Liberman encourages anyone interested in aviation to attend a new member meeting, held every other Tuesday on campus. “For some, it may be a one-time thing with some pizza. For others, it will be an invaluable experience that sets them on a new life trajectory, as it has for many club members since 1945.”
The YJFC owns and operates a fleet of four Cessna 172 airplanes and is based at the DeKalb-Peachtree Airport. Members can learn to fly, along with many other facets of aviation, at their own pace and at a low cost.
Dave Meilander has been associated with the club since the late 1970s, serving as a chief flight instructor for more than 25 years, and, for the past 10 years, as vice president of aircraft maintenance. “For me, after being introduced to flight in the fourth grade and learning to fly in another college flying club, flying has been a lifelong passion,” he said. “Forty years ago, I met my wife, Ellen Whitlock, in the club while teaching her to fly. What better reward is there?” The couple has served on the committee putting together the upcoming anniversary celebration.
"The YJFC has played an important part in the history of Georgia Tech,” said club member Sam Mascuch, who is also part of the celebration planning committee, “and the 75th anniversary banquet is an excellent and fun opportunity to commemorate the activities of the club through the years.”
And as for the next 75 years? “I'd like the club to keep on chugging,” Liberman said. “I want everyone on campus to have access to aviation, to experience what it's like seeing Atlanta from the air, and to feel the freedom that is flying an airplane. Georgia Tech students have a unique opportunity to do all of those things.”