The Infinity Aero Club Tampa Bay started in 2018 much like any other flying club — a group of friends got together, flying a 1962 Cessna 172 out of Tampa North Aeropark (X39) in Florida.
But over the years, the club has evolved, with a new mission: To foster the dreams of flight to reality, primarily by making learning to fly — and flying daily — more affordable.
It’s led by Ricardo Foster, who served in the U.S. Navy for 28 years, retiring as a Lieutenant Commander in Naval Intelligence and a Naval War College Graduate. He’s also a serial entrepreneur who has owned and collaborated on 15 start-up businesses.
Now he’s set his sights on his new mission: “To make aviation-focused outreach programs more accessible and affordable to socially and economically disadvantaged communities while providing aviation-themed STEM programs.”
“We are trying to bring the cost of pilot training from the traditional $8,000 to $12,000 down to a third of that through sponsors, the use of simulators, and volunteers,” says Ricardo.
One key sponsor is Jetline Systems Corporation in Tampa, Florida. Jetline Systems primarily designs computer games, but a quarter of its business is building, supporting, and maintaining FAA approved advanced training simulators. It also is the North American distributor of Virtual Fly simulators.
“When Ricardo reached out to us, we shared his vision and passion for education,” said Greg Sanderson, president of Jetline Systems Corporation. Sanderson donated access to flight simulators with Cessna 172 and 182 panels in the sim room for the club’s students to use.
“When the students are using the sim, they forget they’re two feet off the ground after 10 minutes,” he says.
As of early 2022, the club had 10 aviation pilot cadets, a waiting list of future aviation cadets, free access to the flight simulators, and the club’s Cessna 172, which is currently undergoing restoration.Helping in those efforts are youth club members, such as Samuel Jones, 16, and Lavette Jones, 17. They work under the watchful eyes of volunteer A&Ps Tom Barlow and Albert Wilson. Helping the effort is Aircraft Propeller Works of Auburndale, Florida, which donated its overhaul and restoration of a prop for the club.
Besides all of the on-airport activity, the flying club also conducts a monthly series of aviation and aerospace classes through the Tampa Bay Advanced Manufacturing & Robotics Center (AMRoC) Fab Lab at University Square Mall and at the Tampa North Aero Park maintenance and aircraft facility.
In 2022, the club will expand those efforts, offering a monthly educational STEM series on aviation careers at middle and high schools in Pasco, Hillsborough, and Pinellas Counties.
In addition, the club plans to sponsor field trips to the Aerospace Center for Excellence (ACE) in Lakeland, Florida, in collaboration with the SUN ‘n FUN executive leadership and ACE Executive Director Daryll Price.
The club also just got word that the Lakeland Aero Club and the EAA chapter in Naples, Florida, is donating a 70% to 80% completed aircraft kit.
The Zenith 601 HD light-sport aircraft project will be used to start the club’s Teen Mechanical and Aerospace engineering STEM Aircraft Build Program, he noted.
Another donation is a 1998 Pietenpol Air Camper that shows just how far club members are willing to go to make the dream of flying a reality for the kids. U.S. Air Force Major Julian Spinoza was in charge of getting the Air Camper from Montana to North Tampa. It took him seven days to fly the 2,300 miles.
As part of the club’s fundraising, Ricardo rents his house at Tampa North Aero Park for events and donates 25% of the money to the club. For his 50th birthday, he hosted a fundraiser dinner there and brought together sponsors, volunteers, and friends. He introduced his students and sponsors and announced his plan to make his club one of the chapters of Tuskegee Airmen Inc., a non-profit organization that has a variety of youth programs, including its Red Tail Flight Academy, which teaches kids from disadvantaged communities how to fly.
Meanwhile, while the youth programs continue to grow, the club is also accepting new members.
While the club is still small, it has mighty goals, enthusiasm to spare, and a fine group of business professionals, educators, and aviation mentors to help it grow.