Reminder Assistant Editor
NORTHAMPTON Even if just for one hour, I was a pilot.
Gripping the yoke of a four-seat Piper Warrior with white knuckles, I was dipping and banking above the cloud-crested valley.
Without spending a fortune, or sitting through hours of classroom instruction, I was strapped into the cockpit, navigating the skies above Western Massachusetts with a professional pilot by my side. And even I, someone too afraid of heights to climb a ladder and clean the gutters, managed to stay calm enough to enjoy every last second of it.
It was pilot John Smith who put my fears to rest by repeating what would become my mantra through the experience, "Remember, there is nothing you can do that I can't immediately fix."
My flight, a Project Pilot introductory lesson out of Northampton Airport, is being marketed to the adventurous, curious and as holiday gifts for just $59. With no age limitations (other than being tall enough to reach the controls) and no experience required, it is hard to find reasons not to fly.
The steeply discounted rates are part of a new flight training initiative from the non-profit Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association.
"I think it makes a great gift," said Northampton Airport Manager, Richard MacIsaac. "Especially for the person who has everything but hasn't done everything."
With a pre-check, taxi, take-off, flight, landing and post-check of the airplane, this one-hour experience is the first of about 40 hours required to earn a private pilot's license.
Leafing through the guest book in the lobby of the Northampton Airport, it seemed the young, the old and everyone in between had signed their names before climbing into a cockpit. The reasons for their flights, scribbled in the "purpose for visit" column beside their names, were 70th birthdays, 16th wedding anniversaries, sight-seeing, and my favorite, simply, "fun."
"I usually tell people that while it sounds very exotic, anyone can do it," MacIsaac said about flying and going on to earn a license. "There are all sizes and kinds of people who do it."
After the lesson, pilots spend as much as it takes with customers to answer their questions and help them decide if and how they will continue their training. About sixty percent, Mac Isaac said, will go on to earn a license.
Although I'm not convinced that I'll go all the way in becoming a private pilot, I decided before I had my two feet on the ground that this was just too much fun not to do again. Surely, I'll also be stuffing a few stockings with air-borne adventures this year.
For more information or to purchase a flight lesson gift certificate, visit www.projectpilot.org/TheReminder or call the Northampton Aeronautics Inc. at (413) 584-7980.