The Payson Airport AeroFair is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Payson Airport, 806 W. Airport Road. Admission is free. The event features aircraft displays, food, and fun for the entire family, plus the opportunity to visit with pilots.
One of those pilots is Matt Cluff, a third generation pilot — though he did not become one until 2019. But his imagination and RC planes had him in the air much sooner.
Cluff said he has loved airplanes from a very young age.
“I believe it had something to do with the fact that my father and older brother were also very much airplane enthusiasts.”
He said his grandfather was one of the “flying farmers” in Queen Creek, Ariz. and owned several airplanes over the course of his life and had two of his own airstrips.
“My father flew recreationally until the late 1980s, but I was pretty little then and didn’t really have the opportunity to go with him. My older brother Elliot and father were also very much into Radio Control airplanes. At a young age, I was exposed to these and learning all I could about what various airplane parts were called and what it took to make something fly.
“Like any other kid, I got my hands on rubber band-powered (wind up) balsa model airplanes and would go into the yard, wind them up and throw them into the air. It would climb out and typically find itself flying erratically right back to earth, most of the time ending up as a pile of splinters. I was happy, though. Airplanes would trace across the sky and I couldn’t get enough.”
Cluff said he was about 9 when he saved enough money from doing chores to buy his first gas-powered control line airplane.
“Tethered to two cables, it would fly at a high rate of speed in a circle. While dizzying, it fueled the fire even more. A couple of years later, I received a legitimate Radio Control airplane. It was an all wood kit I built from plans with my father. I called it a dad and lad project. In a few months, it was ready to go. We hauled that thing to the RC flying field in Rye, set it up, handed the radio transmitter (controller) to my brother as he would be the one flying her maiden voyage. She gloriously broke free from the clutches of gravity and climbed away. It was really something to see what was a pile of wood turn into a REAL flying machine. My brother Elliot then became my RC instructor over the next few months.”
Cluff said he never gave up on the hobby or the dream. “I would continue to build and fly Radio Control airplanes well into adulthood. In fact, I still collect RC kits and plan to build them and fly them.”
He said throughout his life he wondered how he would get into flying real airplanes.
“Heck, I shouldn’t say real airplanes, more like full-scale airplanes. RC airplanes were very much real airplanes.
“Anyway, the long and short of it, I wanted to become a pilot. It seemed a bit out of reach. Looking at the options, I realized it was very expensive. Being new at a job and a growing family counting on me, the hobbies had to be set aside. There tends to be an inverse relationship between time and money. Neither are enjoyed at the same time.”
Cluff and his family moved down to the Valley for his job in 2007. As big as the city was, its flexible options for flight instruction seemed to be few and again, the ones that were available were very expensive, he said.
“The flying dream was put on the back burner. It seemed like a hobby that was only accessible to those who were rich and retired.”
Cluff and his family moved back to Payson in 2018.
“My career had led me in a direction to a compressed work schedule, so driving back and forth didn’t seem all that bad. We settled into our new home up here in God’s country.
“Still a boy at heart watching airplanes fly over, I couldn’t kick the thought of pursuing my pilot certificate. A little bird told me about a club that might be forming in Payson to be named the Payson Aero Club — a club that would allow someone to buy-in to become a partner in an airplane and operate it for straight cost and there would be instructors available. This sounded pretty interesting. I called up the man responsible, Mike White, and had a discussion with him.
“It all sounded very good and after I was done doing a little math, I realized that even with the cost of an instructor, buying into the club and paying dues, I would come out thousands ahead of a comparable flight school in the Valley and after that I would be a partial owner in an airplane. Could this be the moment I was waiting for?
“Luckily for me, my wife was very supportive of the idea and we decided collectively to just go for it. It has been a long time coming. I paid my buy-in before there was even an airplane. It wasn’t long before we had 10 interested folks willing to pool their money and buy a great little airplane. The journey began.”
Cluff said on April 26, 2019, he finally began his journey to become a pilot.
“It is not an easy or quick road to becoming a pilot. But on that note, if I can do it, then anybody can. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) requires an aspiring pilot to jump through many educational hoops, learning different maneuvers, knowing what to do in case of an emergency, building time, flying distances to unknown airports, etc. I made it a point to fly at least a couple of times a week. On June 16, 2019, with 12.2 hours under my belt, with my wife Tiffani and my three kids, Kayden, Morgan and Jett, watching from a distance, I made my first solo flight. That moment is something that can never ever be forgotten. At that moment, I was a pilot.
“Swallowing up a tad bit of fear, I knew what I had to do. My instructor’s last words as he sent me on my way were, ‘if you break something, break something cheap. Give me two touch and go’s and a full stop. See you on the other side.’ Talk about emotional.”
After that, training continued to prepare for the checkride. “I had to reach a minimum number of hours dual with an instructor and a minimum number of hours solo, all while demonstrating knowledge and proficiency on various normal and emergency tasks. On Oct. 6, 2019, I met up with an FAA Designated pilot examiner for what would be a grueling 4-hour day of discussion and testing on the ground followed by nearly 2 hours in the air demonstrating the skills I learned in the preceding months. That day I was awarded my Private Pilot Certificate. I had achieved my goal.
“I was so over the moon about all of it that when the Payson Aero Club officer election came, I ran to become the president of the club. Lo and behold, I was voted in to serve two consecutive terms as the president of the Payson Aero Club.
“I felt compelled to give back to the club and future members because the club has done so much for me. I have made great lifelong friends, learned to fly — my life dream, and saved money in the process. It was truly a win-win.
“Since then, my family and I have sold our club membership to pursue our own aviation journey and make room for future aviators. I encourage anyone who is interested to reach out to one of the PAC officers or myself for information.”
Cluff said he and his family are now the proud owners of their second airplane, a 1961 Cessna 182D. “It is a great all-around utility airplane, good for the family and can haul (essentially) whatever we can fit into it. It is the truck of the skies. Our aircraft is set up for back country and off-airport operations. I am continuing to pursue advanced flight training and can’t wait to see where this adventure leads us.
“I am so thankful to my family for putting up with me and supporting me throughout this process. We are blessed beyond belief to get to experience this absolute form of joy that not many get to. It’s achievable by all.”