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Downtown Great Barrington; photo courtesy Berkshire Aviation.
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An introduction to flight, a re-introduction to the Berkshires

The area is beautiful from just about any perspective, but the view from above allows for a new understanding of the peaks and valleys that protect the diverse cities, towns, and villages that have changed with almost geologic hesitancy.

Aerial view of downtown Great Barrington; photo courtesy Berkshire Aviation.

I’ve always wanted to ride a mini airplane, because the movies always made mini airplane rides look so fascinating and exhilarating, but I never thought that I would get the opportunity to get behind the wheel and ride in one. 

One day while scrolling through the internet for a popular recreational activity that I can try in the Berkshires, I came across Berkshire Aviation Enterprises which offered flying lessons along with charter and scenic flights. I knew right away that I wanted to go out for an airplane ride and fly up into the sky.

Berkshire Aviation Enterprises used to be a potato farm before becoming a commercial airdrome service. The airport has been operating since 1944, providing maintenance, flying lessons, scenic flights, and aviation training for over 65 years. 

Pulling into Great Barrington Airport, I noticed a long line of mini airplanes parked along the grass adjacent to the runway and a big white garage with the name Walter J. Koladza titled across the building. It turns out that airport was named after former owner, Walter J. Koladza (died September 2004) who ran the airport for nearly 60 years and used to work as a test pilot during World War 2. 

photo of a 1973 Piper Cherokee
The 1973 Piper Cherokee flown by the writer is a two place all metal aircraft that’s stable and docile; photo by Mei Craig.

After getting a better look around the airport, I learned that all the airplanes that I saw lined up on the grass were privately owned planes that weren’t affiliated with the airport. Berkshire Aviation isn’t just an airport that people can fly their private planes out of, but it’s also flight school that’s been training aviators for over 65 years. In fact, when I first checked into the office for my lesson, my instructor asked me if I was interested in becoming a pilot because a lot of the visitors who come by for flying lessons are either training to become pilots or knew someone from their family who was a pilot and wanted to test out the planes themselves. 

There are about 70 to 80 students currently training at Berkshire Aviation Enterprises and I was fortunate enough to be in the hands of a skilled certified flight instructor (CFI) for the entire flight. 

I had what you’d call an Introductory flight lesson, which included a 30-minute discussion on the aircraft operation flight and 30 minutes into the air with the controls in front of me. 

Before stepping inside the plane, the instructor talked me through the general procedures that a pilot must check before taking off in an airplane, which involved filling up the fuel tanks, checking the color of the fuel three times and inspecting the conditions of the wings, propellers, and operating system inside the plane. 

Luckily for me, I’m not afraid of heights and I’ve flown on an airplane before, but only on an airline flight accompanied by multiple passengers. I’ve been traveling ever since I was a baby and used to accompany my mother on long international flights to Hong Kong, Singapore and Jakarta, Indonesia. I remember those flights lasting up to 15 hours long, and constantly having to switch planes and airports and dealing with jet lag. It was my love and past experiences with travel that inspired me to pursue this activity. 

Despite being mesmerized by the experience, the writer was able to document some of the experience on video; footage by Mei Craig.

I went inside and rode a white and green Piper Cherokee airplane that contained two seats and two steering wheels. You steer the aircraft with your feet on both petals. Before taking off into the air, I used my feet on the petals to position the plane on the runway. It’s almost like driving a car expect you don’t use the steering wheel as much as you think you would. My instructor did most of the work and once the airplane took off into the sky, I felt the intensity and pressure of the air pulling up against my chest but that all changed once we got settled into the air. 

Once I was up into the air, all my anxieties about flying were gone because I knew that I was in safe hands. Flying in an airplane made me feel like a bird soaring through the wind. You can feel the excitement and adrenaline rush of the flight pumping through you’re veins as the plane soared through the Berkshires.

The writer’s flight path on her introductory flight; video courtesy Flight Aware.

When it came to steering the plane, you had to be very gentle with the wheel because if you pull the wheel to harshly you can feel the pressure of the wind and momentum of the plane move down with you. You can move the wheel forwards or backwards or left or right. If you move the wheel towards you, then plane goes up but if you move the wheel back then the plane moves down. If you steer the wheel to the left, then the plane tilts to the right and vice-versa. 

I communicated with my instructor with an aviation headset that covered both my ears and had a microphone attached to the side. The headsets are used for the pilot and instructor to talk to one another while flying, as well as block out background noises and system interferences. We were 2,500 feet off the ground, and I spent most of my time looking out the window and staring at the green pastures and yellow fields that surrounded Great Barrington to eventually following the rivers and lakes that brought us to Hudson Valley and Albany. 

aerial photo of the Berkshires
The topographical separations between the Berkshires and surrounding regions are easier to identify and understand from above; photo courtesy Berkshire Aviation.

It was the view that sold me. Staring at the Berkshires from 2,500 feet off was a euphoric and mesmerizing experience that I’ll always remember. I never imagined that I would get the chance to fly and have control of a mini airplane. Anybody can learn how to fly an airplane, there is no minimum age requirement to have a flying lesson. 

Interested in learning more about Berkshire Aviation Enterprises? You can find out more information on their website at https://www.berkshireaviation.com/

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