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Villagers, pilots and couple Dan Lieff and Barbara Wiley stand proudly before their Skycatcher Cessna parked at the Springfield Municipal Airport, where the pair runs the area’s newest flight school: Aerolieff Aviation Services. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Aerolieff Aviation takes flight over Yellow Springs

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Have you ever wondered what Yellow Springs looks like from 5,000 feet above?

Village residents, lifelong pilots and couple Barbara Wiley and Dan Lieff could tell you all about it — they fly over town all the time. And with their new business, Aerolieff Aviation Services, you can, too.

“Seeing the sunset before anyone else — completely unencumbered by trees or powerlines — you can get a whole new perspective on the world,” Wiley told the News. “Aviation is magical.”

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One of just a handful of flight-training companies in the Dayton regional area, and headquartered five miles north of Yellow Springs, Aerolieff offers instruction for wannabe pilots with aspirations of all kinds: private flying, commercial careers, military ambitions and more.

The homegrown company, which started in 2020, provides aviation students — newcomers and veterans alike — with on-the-ground academic and technical education, as well as practical, in-flight training.

Presently, Wiley and Lieff’s summer “ground school” curricula entails lessons in aerodynamics, federal aviation regulations, decision-making, weather, communication and more. While this set of courses run through early August, Lieff told the News that aspiring pilots are able to drop in at any time — learning how to fly in ways that suit their goals.

In-flight training costs $185 per hour, which covers the costs of instruction as well as fuel and general aircraft maintenance; the “ground school,” which consists of 10, three-hour classes costs $300. But for those simply curious about becoming a pilot before committing to any formal instruction, Aerolieff offers $100 “discovery flights.”

“Some people may want to be private pilots, others might want to go down a career track. Get enough time with us, then you could eventually move up and work for an airline,” Lieff said.

Local pilot Dan Lieff flew high above Yellow Springs last week — just as he does most weeks. Along with his wife, Barbara Wiley, Lieff recently launched Aerolieff Aviation Services, a flight school for all, based out of the Springfield Municipal Airport. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Wiley and Lieff, who fell in love — both with each other and flying together — in 2017, have spent their lives looking up at the sky.

Wiley, who moved to the U.S. from Haiti when she was 12, said she and her sister spent many hours outside, mesmerized by the impossibly large aircrafts suspended overhead. Later, after eight years in the Air Force, Wiley got hooked on planes.

Likewise, Lieff said he always wanted wings. Initially wanting to take flight in helicopters, a colleague nudged him in a more conventional plane-based route. At 22, he got his private license, then later his flight certificate. He taught, went to college and, after exiting the Army, landed a job with a commercial airline. Nowadays, the FAA-certified instructor works full-time for NetJets, flying private planes for days at a time.

“If you love something enough, you’ll eventually want to teach it, right?” Wiley asked, smiling. “Flying has been life-enriching for us, and now, we want to share that joy with others.”

The couple now own three planes and a helicopter — the latter of which is a Bell 47, a single-rotor light copter model featured in the television series M*A*S*H. Their two-winged pride and joy, however, is their Cessna Skycatcher, a light-weight two-seater that, as Wiley said, is both powerful and simple — the perfect plane to take students (and this reporter) in the air. 

“It’s a classic plane, that Skycatcher,” she said. “It’s great for newbies, has a solid continental engine that doesn’t require many tools and can go just as far as a lot of other aircrafts — just a little slower but more efficient on gas.”

Elaborating on these specs, Lieff said the Skycatcher can get up to 100 knots — or approximately 115 miles per hour — and uses just five gallons of fuel per hour. It can go up several thousands of feet in the air and can reliably go long distances; Lieff and Wiley have taken it to Martha’s Vineyard, the Navajo Nation, Florida and elsewhere.

For this reporter, Lieff took the Skycatcher just 4,000 feet above Yellow Springs and rural Springfield: high enough to see the peaks of Antioch College and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in the same vista.

They store their Skycatcher and other aircrafts in a rented hangar at Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, a civil-military airport in Clark County, just beyond Young’s Jersey Dairy — also where the couple runs their flight school. Although three units of the Ohio Air National Guard are based there, the 1,500-acre, two-runway Springfield airport is the home for predominantly civilian aircrafts and local pilots, Lieff said.

“There used to be these huge fighter jets, but all that’s really left are the large runways,” he explained. “So, it’s a great place to train.”

Lieff added that although several of the WWII-vintage hangars have seen better days and the airport as a whole isn’t as bustling as it was in the early part of the new millennium, a noteworthy boon came in the early-pandemic years when local resident and comedian Dave Chappelle flew in a number of high-profile acts — “which brought in a lot of air traffic and used a lot of fuel,” that Lieff said ultimately helped keep the airport afloat during that economic downturn.

It’s that bigger picture — of the world of aviation beyond their hangar — that motivates Wiley and Lieff to run their flight school; the couple has a keen eye of the pilot shortage within the global workforce. According to recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS, there has recently been an annual average of 17,000 openings for airline and commercial pilots. This gap, the couple suggested, stems from an aging workforce facing mandatory retirement, fewer pilots exiting the military and cost-prohibitive training to get into the field.

“Sure, getting into aviation can be difficult,” Lieff admitted. “But realistically girls and guys can get into a cockpit within a few years — not necessarily in a commercial plane right away, but not long after some time with us.”

The bigger picture: Yellow Springs from 4,000 feet above. (Photo by Reilly Dixon)

Furthermore, Wiley and Lieff aim to introduce more kinds of pilots into the fold.

“Our dream,” Wiley said, “is to bring aviation into view for more minorities and women. Yes, there are more Black and Brown people getting into the cockpit, but [the profession] is still dominated by white men.”

A 2024 population survey from the BLS indicates that more than 90% of all aircraft pilots are white men; fewer than 7% are women and less than 1% are women of color.

“When I get out of a plane, people are amazed,” Wiley — who is Black — said. “And I want that to change. Aviation is magical and should be for everyone — a dream for anyone of any color to achieve.”

To accomplish this goal, Wiley and Lieff also have a burgeoning nonprofit: the Skybound Flight Academy, which is still in its protean stages, but may grow alongside their Aerolieff business.

The couple hopes, one day, to receive grants to finance aviation instruction for local children of color and disadvantaged youth. As Wiley said, they hope to soon offer “free or at least reduced cost flight instruction” to local kids — to, one day, “change the color make-up of the commercial cockpit.”

“Can you imagine?” Wiley asked. “I want Brown kids to be able to walk into an airport, see Brown pilots and think, ‘Hey, I can do that.’ Representation matters, and being able to visualize yourself in that job is really half the battle.”

But before the couple can get their nonprofit off the ground — so to speak — they said they need to focus on Aerolieff. That is, bringing in more students and piquing local interest in aviation generally. Already, this is in motion, Lieff said. Earlier this spring, the couple hosted several free cursory “ground schools” at Yellow Springs Hardware — “which were well-attended,” Lieff said — and they hope to do more.

Additionally, Lieff and Wiley seek to broaden the scope of the Aerolieff business. With their M*A*S*H-esque helicopter, they want to solicit “gender reveals” — meaning that they could fly overhead a gathering in which expectant parents unveil the gender of their forthcoming child, and disperse a blue or pink powder.

“We’re even talking to families about spreading the ashes of cremated loved ones,” Wiley said.

To learn more about the services offered by Aerolieff and the related nonprofit, Skybound Academy, go to http://www.aerolieff.com or call 937-768-8204.

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