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Equity in the air

Srinath Nandakumar, past president of Purdue Pilots Inc., and Aaron Parihar, current PPI president.

Purdue Pilots Inc. generates enthusiasm for flying by providing low-cost access to flight rentals, lessons 

When it comes to flying credentials, it doesn’t get much better than the student organization Purdue Pilots Inc. (PPI). 

PPI came to life in 1956, when the Gold and Black Flite Club (affiliated with Amelia Earhart) and the Flying Boilermakers (a club founded by Neil Armstrong) merged. Purdue’s 1958 Debris yearbook described the organization as “the largest collegiate flyer club of its kind in the country.”  

What’s even more impressive than its history-rich pedigree is that PPI is entirely student run. “It’s me and my vice president, maintenance officer, treasurer, public relations officer and secretary, and that’s it,” says PPI President Aaron Parihar. “That’s our team; we manage everything.”  

Parihar notes that, while other university flying clubs may have a student governing board, it’s rare for a club to be entirely operated by students. “We’ve talked to other clubs,” he says, “and I don’t know of any besides PPI that are fully student run.” 

PPI is unique in its cost structure as well. When a new member joins, they gain the exclusive right to rent one of PPI’s two Piper Warrior II aircraft. Members also vote on how the planes are maintained and priced. 

Since its inception, the club’s mission has been to cultivate enthusiasm for flying at Purdue by providing low-cost access to flight rentals. Again and again and again, PPI has met this goal. 

“Thousands of aviators have passed through our club since it started,” Parihar says. “There is a really rich history of people being able to come here and learn to fly affordably. We allow access to anyone with a Purdue affiliation, not just students. Boilermakers can come learn to fly for some of the best rates you can find in the area.” 

During Purdue Aviation Day, we let kids come sit inside the planes, and they love it. I hope we’ve inspired a few kids to get their pilot’s license one day.

Aaron Parihar
President of Purdue Pilots Inc. 

Purdue Aviation maintains, hangars and dispatches PPI aircraft. And the club also has a flight instruction agreement with Purdue Aviation. Training ranges from an introductory “Is flying really for me?” lesson all the way to earning a private pilot’s license. 

Parihar says, “There’s a lot that you can do through PPI, though, even if you’re not pursuing a license.”  

Members can rent the aircraft for leisure travel. Last spring break, for example, a member flew one of the planes to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Another member flew a plane back home to celebrate his grandmother’s 94th birthday. 

“It’s a different level of freedom and connection,” Parihar says. “The ability to travel, to spend time with your family or visit new places.” 

A private pilot himself, Parihar is slowly working his way toward his instrument rating. He will graduate in spring 2025. He points to PPI as a foundational experience for him at Purdue.  

“Outside of academics, PPI is my biggest time commitment, and I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he says. “It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.” 

Purdue Pilots even helped Parihar with the next steps in his future career as an engineer. “I have an internship this summer at Garmin, where I’ll be working on some of the same instruments that we have in our planes,” he says. “I was connected to the internship through other members of the club. They told me about Garmin and encouraged me to apply.” 

A future Boilermaker sits in an airplane on display during the annual Purdue Aviation Day, the university’s largest 100% student-run event.