WISCASSET — For nearly 20 years, the Flighttime Flight Club, based at Wiscasset Airport, has been getting people airborne.

Established in 1998, the club was born when a commercial service that allowed rentals of its planes announced it would be leaving the airport. A group of local pilots decided to purchase one of the planes and form a club to offset the high cost of recreational flying.

Sean Rafter, one of the founding members, regularly flies the Cessna 172 – known as the “Skyhawk” thanks to its distinctive paint scheme – and says the club is a great way for anyone interested in aviation to get started.

“By sharing the membership, it keeps the cost of owning and flying an airplane at an absolute minimum,” he said.

Typically membership has been between a dozen and 20 people, who share the aircraft and help offset costs. But flying and maintaining a plane, even a small one, can come with a hefty price tag. Aircraft are under strict regulations and inspection regimens specified by the Federal Avistion Administration, an understandable burden considering the risks inherent in flying.

“If your car breaks down, you pull over,” said Rafter. “You can’t really do that in a plane.”

Rafter was bitten by the flight bug as a child, growing up around pilots. He used to observe all the route maps, and dreamed of flying one day. It wouldn’t take long for him to reach that dream, and he eventually made a career of it. He first flew for the Coast Guard as a helicopter rescue pilot, and post retirement decided to sail a boat from the West Coast of the U.S. to the East. Later on, he’d return to flying, and still regularly flies with the Flighttime Flight Club.

“To me, this is cheaper than therapy, and a lot more fun,” he said.

To demonstrate just what he meant, Rafter invited me to go for a flight with him one morning. After going over basic flight checks to make sure everything was functioning as it should, he had me climb into the seat next to him for take off.

It’s easy to see what Rafter meant about therapy from 1,500 feet up. Upon taking off from Wiscasset Airport, the Bath Iron Works cranes are visible from miles away. Landmarks got a new perspective, and the sheer amount of water the Midcoast has becomes obvious as it stretches out in all directions, interrupted by islands of trees.

A few other things are obvious quickly, too. Mainly, that the controls for a plane look bewildering to someone who has no idea what they’re doing, and that anyone afraid of flying would be positively terrified in a smaller plane. Turbulence is a fact of life in a smaller aircraft, with air currents tossing you about at times.

Rafter took me on a tour of the Midcoast, first heading down past Bath, then across Brunswick Landing and into Brunswick. Then it was south toward Popham, to make a low pass over Seguin Island. Then up the coast towards Reid State Park, crossing the Sheepscot over Hendricks Head and towards Boothbay Harbor and South Bristol.

Then it was a loop up the peninsula, flying over New Harbor and Round Pond, Newcastle and Damariscotta. Finally, we swung around the Sheepscot and headed back towards the airport, flying over downtown Wiscasset before coming in for a smooth landing.

The whole trip took just over an hour to see a series of landmarks that would take even the most hurried tourist a full day of work. That, too, is a part of what makes flying so great. A drive over the mountains to Burlington, Vermont would take around five hours, while taking a small plane shortens that trip to just over an hour.

“Plus the scenery is better,” said Rafter.

Flight club members have taken the little Cessna all over the country, and have even flown it all the way to the Caribbean to participate in events. Rafter said the club welcomes anyone who wants to attend and find out more about it. They meet at 7:30 a.m. on the first Friday of each month.

For more information about the Flighttime Flight Club, visit flighttime.org.