Wright Flight!

When I was in elementary school, two of my sisters completed the Wright
Flight program at JFK Middle. This was my first introduction to
Northampton Airport- leaving class early, a very special thing at the
time, pulling into the parking lot and seeing all the gleaming airplanes
in front of me, watching them take off from the runway one after another
in a precise and controlled manner. If I’m being honest, I can’t say
I remember watching my sister take off and land- I was too enamored by
everything around me, the different types of planes I never knew
existed, the pilots mingling with each other and the families normally
as if they weren’t pilots, who were supposed to be elevated above the
normal person, especially to a 10-year-old me.

A few years passed, and before I knew it, it was my turn to enroll in
the Wright Flight course. Throughout my middle school years, I had
excelled and loved all types of science- from the basic biology we
learned, memorizing different cells and organelles, to the shiny
periodic table of elements that seemed to contain so many secrets- but
what had really caught my attention was astronomy and space travel.
Aviation wasn’t even on my radar. I remember my 8th-grade science
teacher giving me old copies of the National Geographic Magazine from
the ’60s, worn and weathered with age, but chronicling the flights of
famous astronauts: John Glenn, Alan Shepard, Neil Armstong, all great
heroes who had cemented their place in history. If I had known that all
those famous astronauts started out as pilots, maybe I would’ve had a
different outlook on the Wright Flight program, but in all honesty, I
mostly signed up for the program because most of my friends did. I
figured it would be interesting to explore another STEM field, hang out
with my friends, and even get to take time off of school for field

Instead, I found myself taken with all of the many different facets and
of flying- from basic control and physics to the medical aspects- with
its rich history and tradition. And then, the actual flight day. Due to
an unfortunate string of wild weather, our flight day was planned and
delayed multiple times. When it finally came, on a beautiful spring day,
white clouds dotting the blue sky, I volunteered to go first, dragging
along my flight partner. In middle school, I was fairly indecisive, but
I made this decision immediately, knowing that it was something I wanted
to do without a shadow of a doubt. Maybe it was a little egotistical,
but I wanted to be the first, instead of hesitating and letting someone
else go ahead of me, watching them take to the skies while I stayed on
the ground. 

 It was an incredible experience, one that I can barely put into words.
It was a feeling of pure freedom, almost like my eyes were being opened
for the first time. I’m sure any other aviation enthusiast can
remember their first flight- the details fade away, but the feeling
remains, of being tossed into the shining blue sky, looking at the world
below with new eyes. 

As soon as I landed, I knew that I had to continue down the path of
aviation. A year and a half later, I enrolled in the Wright Flight II
program at Barnes Airport, something that I’ll likely talk about in a
later journal. I think that one of the most important things in the
field of aviation is introducing kids to the opportunities that are out
there. Wright Flight was what made me even consider aviation as a real
career, and encouraged me to continue. Without it, there’s no way I
would be where I am now. Even now, 6 months after I started my flight
training, it still feels surreal that I’m here. I’m able to live out
a fantasy of being a pilot that most people can only dream about, and I
owe it all to the programs and opportunities offered to me at 7B2.


Remember when writing or responding to email, the Massachusetts
Secretary of State has determined that e-mail is a public record. All
electronic messages sent from the Northampton Public Schools
are archived in conformance with Massachusetts and Federal Public
Records law.


This week, I’m taking a break from my regularly-scheduled blog entry
about my flight training to share about an exciting new aviation group I
was given the opportunity to be involved with at 7B2- Young Pilots USA.
Young Pilots USA was founded in October 2020 by Ethan Hand and Luc
Zipkin, two high school glider pilots who wanted to start an
organization to build a community of young pilots across the country,
connecting young people with a passion for aviation. There are currently
4 operating chapters (and 2 pending chapters), including one that I’ll
be leading right here at 7B2.

I’m incredibly lucky to have had my experience with the Wright Flight
programs in Northampton, which introduced me to the field of aviation.
As I didn’t know anyone in the field before or have any sort of
experience with flying, this program introduced me to the world of
aviation and is the reason I’m training at the airport now. However,
even after the Wright Flight program, I was left with a lot of
questions- how can I get involved in this community? Would I really be
able to get my Private Pilot’s License before being an adult? Most of
all, I wondered ‘Where do I go from here?’

I’m extremely grateful to being given the Mary Shea Wright Scholarship
and being able to train at 7B2, and I want a chance to help other kids
pursue their aviation goals. Young Pilots USA is a space for members to
explore different fields of aviation, to meet other like-minded people,
and to ask any questions you may have about aviation. For students who
have taken Wright Flight, it can serve as a ‘stepping stone’, a way
to stay engaged in the community of aviation before starting flight
training or deciding what you’d like to do in the field.

The chapter at Northampton will offer a wide variety of experiences and
activities for members, but the basis for events will be a once-monthly
meeting at the airport, where everyone can come together, swap stories,
connect with other young pilots, and share some pizza. I’m working to
be as safe as possible with covid-19, so the first few meetings will be
held over zoom until it’s warmer and possible to meet outside, but
there still will be plenty of opportunities online.

Young Pilots USA welcomes any young person interested in aviation-
whether they’ve graduated college or are just starting middle school,
whether they have a hundred hours of flight experience or have never
stepped foot in an airplane. There are no dues or fees, as we want to
make this community accessible to anyone and everyone.

For any older, more experienced pilots at the airport, we’d love to
have different volunteers to share their stories about being an aviator,
or being involved in the aviation community in any sense. We welcome
guest speakers to come and join us for a meeting, as everyone in this
field has different and unique experiences and stories. We would also
love for people to spread the world, in any way possible! YP USA is
looking to set up new chapters across the country, so if you’re a
young pilot interested in this organization who lives in another part of
the state, or another state altogether, you may be able to start your
own chapter!
If you’re interested in joining YP USA or are interested in being an
adult volunteer, please feel free to contact me at
krista.jordan@stu.northampton-k12.us. The website for YP USA can be
found here: https://luczipkin.wixsite.com/youngpilots [1]

Wishing everyone and their families a safe and happy holiday season.


Two weeks ago, on a beautiful fall evening, I was able to make my first
solo trip to Barnes Airport. I had flown the route a few times before in
previous lessons, but I was still unsure on some of the correct
terminology with the Air Traffic Controllers- they were just much more
intimidating to talk to compared to the familiarity of UNICOM radio
calls. The winds were calm, the sky was clear, and it was approaching
sunset; the so-called ‘golden hour’ by photographers, the time
between afternoon and night when the sun casts a gorgeous light over
everything. The only catch in the flight over, with my instructor
Vinnie, was that runways 20 and 2 had been closed. I had gotten used to
landing on runway 20, where the pattern from 7B2 was to follow the final
glide path and report a 3 mile final. Landing on runway 15 meant flying
a different pattern than I was used to, flying an extended base and
turning final at a typical pattern elevation. Lining up with the base
path was easy enough, as I just followed the ridge of mountains, flying
parallel to the airport. I turned final a bit too early but made note of
that for when I would return to solo. I landed, followed the taxi
instructions to parking, and prepared for the flight back. I had
struggled the most with communications with Ground, but this time
everything went smoothly- the airport was mostly quiet, and the ATC was
plenty helpful. Once I knew I could complete the trip and was confident
in my ability to follow the ATC’s directions, I flew the same route
back to Northampton, landed and let Vinnie out, and took off to begin
the solo flight. The first transmission to ATC went well, and then the
next, and the one after that, and before I knew it I had landed and
taxiing back to parking, ready to return home to Northampton, without
any difficulties at all. The ATC had been nothing but helpful the whole
flight, especially knowing I was a student pilot. When I was flying
home, once I had the airplane trimmed up and flying straight and level,
I took a moment to look at  Mt. Tom from the air- I had just been by
the mountain a few days ago with my sister, where it seemed to tower
over anything below it. From 1,500 ft, however, it seemed much less
intimidating but still beautiful. That change in perspective is one of
the most amazing things about being a pilot to me- the way I see the
world has completely changed, in a way that’s hard for non-pilots to
really understand. Last fall, when I was enrolled in the Wright Flight
II course in Westfield, I got my hands on a copy of “The Right
Stuff” by Tom Wolfe, the famous biography detailing the lives of
famous fighter jocks and the first astronauts. One of the quotes from
that book, about what it was like to look down on the world from the
air, has stuck with me to this day:

“From up here at dawn the pilot looked down upon poor hopeless Las
Vegas (or Yuma, Corpus Christi, Meridian, San Bernardino, or Dayton) and
began to wonder: How can all of them down there, those poor souls who
will soon be waking up and trudging out of their minute rectangles and
inching along their little noodle highways toward whatever slots and
grooves make up their everyday lives— how could they live like that,
with such earnestness, if they had the faintest idea of what it was like
up here in this righteous zone?”

I made my trip back to Northampton uneventfully and made one of my best
landings yet on runway 32. The flight itself was short, but I was left
thinking about how stunning it was to look down on the world from above,
Tom Wolfe’s words ringing true in my mind, for much longer.


In my current flight training, I’ve been working on a few things- I
made my first solo trip to Orange recently, I’m learning how to
communicate with air traffic controllers at Barnes and looking to solo
there soon, and doing basic IFR training. At first, I was a little
apprehensive about instrument training- the infamous ‘hood’ is
intimidating enough and everything I thought I knew about flying
instantly got turned around when I couldn’t see outside the cockpit.
The attitude indicator, which I had only used for turns in VFR flight,
became the most important instrument, giving me information that I could
cross reference with other instruments to determine anything I needed to
know about the aircraft’s performance. For example, for a standard
rate climb, I would first set the ‘airplane’ on the attitude
indicator above the horizon, and then I would check my vertical speed
indicator and airspeed indicator to keep the ascent standard. In the
ground school class I took earlier this summer, I learned all about
different sensory illusions caused by IFR flight, but with no reference
to what it felt like, it was hard to wrap my head around. Now all of
those concepts make so much more sense- I would roll out of a turn, and
I was positive that the plane was level, but a glance at the turn
coordinator and attitude indicator showed that I was still in a slight
bank! My perception totally betrayed me without any outside reference. I
found that after my first IFR flight, I have a newfound appreciation for
the instruments during VFR flights, especially the attitude indicator. I
hope to go on to get my IFR certification after I get my private pilots
license, and am excited to continue work in this type of flight!


Last week I worked on finishing up work on my unassisted landings in
preparation for my first solo. Monday and Tuesday I spent touching up
crosswind landings, and the 90-degree weather plus flying with full-fuel
meant I was also working with decreased aircraft performance- I had to
add and additional 100-200 RPMs to throttle inputs just because the
aircraft was feeling so sluggish. Wednesday morning the weather
conditions were much lighter, with temperatures in the 70s and calm
winds. Vinnie signed off on my solo endorsement while I did the
preflight inspection for our plane- Warrior N85NA. We got up and I did a
few circuits around the landing pattern, practicing normal
touch-and-goes and go-arounds on runway 14, taking in the beautiful
conditions and empty landing pattern. About forty minutes into our
lesson, Vinnie told me to make the next landing a full stop- even though
it seemed too early to end to me, I landed regardless and then learned
that I would be soloing. After taxiing over to the fuel pump Vinnie
hopped out and I was ready to do another loop of the landing pattern on
my own.

Even though I knew that I would solo soon, I wasn’t quite expecting
that it would be today- which meant I didn’t have time to work myself up
about it or get too worried. I taxied back onto 14, made the call that
I was departing and remaining in the pattern, and added full throttle.
As the plane reached 55 kts, I applied back pressure and the airplane
jumped off the runway- since I was the only one in the airplane, it was
much lighter. I pitched for the best rate of climb and waited until I
was just over the riverbank, at about 600ft, to turn crosswind. After I
leveled the wings, I made the crosswind radio call, and then turned
downwind, following the same procedure. I leveled off at pattern
altitude and flew the downwind, powering back and adding a notch of
flaps to lose altitude. I turned base, made the radio call, and began
the turn to final. I started the turn a little early, so I got rid of
some of the bank and then finished the turn, lining up with the
centerline of 14. As I came over the highway, I noted that I was too
high and throttled back, pitching for the right glide path by watching
the picture outside the nose and the landing lights. Two white and two
red lights showed that I was on the right track, and I focused on
staying aligned with eh centerline. When I was over the runway I rounded
out, let the airplane settle, and then applied back pressure for the
flare. I didn’t hold it off quite long enough, and so it was a bumpier
landing than I would’ve liked, but it was still acceptable. I
taxiied back to the hold short line, dropped the flaps, and prepared to
do the circuit again. The second time was mostly the same, except this
time I was also thinking about emergency procedures in the back of my
mind- now I knew I could do the circuit, I wanted to mentally prepare
for any malfunctions so I wouldn’t be too surprised to act.

It wasn’t until I got out of the airplane that I really realized I had
soloed- of course, I knew I was the only one in the plane, but I was so
concentrated on flying the plane I didn’t think about the bigger picture
or have a chance to get scared. One thing that’ll make a good story
someday is that I was initially more surprised to be flying without a
mask on than soloing- since I’ve only been flying since June, I got so
used to wearing masks in the cockpit that not having to wear one was
jarring. It was such an incredible experience, and I’m grateful to
everyone at the airport who helped me to this point, especially my
instructor Vinnie Melling and my mentor Rose Ganim.


In my most recent lessons, I’ve been working on finishing work on my
unassisted landings- staying directly on the centerline of the runway
when touching down, timing out the round-out, holding off the flare for
long enough, and working in crosswind conditions. We’ve also been
practicing landings with an airspeed cover on, and engine failure
procedures. Because of this, I’ve been sticking around the landing
pattern in the airport the last few days, although we did go out to
practice touch-and-go landings at Barnes airport last week. It was
really exciting to learn how to communicate with Air Traffic Control,
and to see all of the different types of aircraft based at Barnes
Airport. I found that landing on a larger runway was also useful, as
it’s much easier to stay aligned with the runway when on final approach.
When I was out flying Wednesday morning, we originally did our first few
touch-and-go’s off runway 14, but after about 30 minutes, the wind began
to favor 32, and I learned the procedure for switching from the landing
pattern of 14 to 32 . That experience really served as a self-contained
representation of flying as a whole- things are constantly shifting and
changing, and so learning how to adapt to new conditions rather than
getting stuck in a certain way of doing things. I also just finished up
the young aviators ground school, taught by Rose Ganim, and am working
to study for my written test.