The Aviation Science class before their flight this past Sunday
This semester, ten lucky students are charting new territory as inaugural members of the new Aviation Science elective at Berkshire. Michael Lee (parent of Jack ’10, Josh ’06 and Chris ’94), a native Australian, has long fostered a love for aviation and adventure. Now a licensed commercial pilot, he brings over 25 years of expertise and passion to the classroom. The semester-long class will prepare students to pass the FAA Ground School Certification Exam in May, which is an initial requirement for anyone hoping to earn a pilot’s license. The course focuses on the study of aerodynamics, meteorology, navigation, radio communication, and instrumentation as they relate to flying an airplane, and includes quizzes, tests and presentations. But the coursework is not limited to the classroom; each student will have between six and ten hours of flight training on Sundays under the tutelage of Chief Flight Instructor Peggy Loeffler at Great Barrington Airport, about five miles from the Berkshire campus.
Click here to listen to Michael Lee talk more about the class.
The idea for this course grew from a conversation with Head of School Mike Maher when he recounted the story of the school’s Education with Wings program in the 1940’s. The Army and Navy sent air-cadet trainees to Berkshire, where they received academic instruction and went to the Great Barrington Airport for flying lessons. The cadets slept in Spurr House and ate in the dining hall. Berkshire boys could participate in the flying lessons as well, and nearly a third of the school was involved. Mr. Lee was eager to rekindle a flight program at the school. As an initial foray, he offered a week-long Pro Vita Winter Session course last February; demand was so high that enrollment was filled within three minutes. “The opportunity to offer a program like Aviation Science at Berkshire is largely due to the 'outside the box' thinking of people like Head of School Mike Maher and the whole faculty,” said Mr. Lee. “As a team, they are committed to making Berkshire a place where education really is 'for life' and creating opportunities that will serve that end. I saw this in the support I received in developing the program and am receiving every day as we make this program a reality.”
Click here to listen to Michael Lee talk about his passion for aviation.
Students in the class are resoundingly enthusiastic. Jack Krueger ’11 had his first experience at the controls of an airplane this past Sunday and reflected later on the experience. “When we got to the end of the runway I felt the bumps of air bouncing the airplane around and I was pumped. I was truly ignited with this feeling of ‘AWESOME.’ When Jeff asked if I wanted to take the controls going back to school I was hesitant, but I was really pumped inside. I said yes, definitely feeling a little nervous, but very excited. I remember looking down at this pond with snow blown on it and I felt ecstatic.” He is eager for the opportunity to apply his classroom study to real-world applications. “I look forward to learning and soaking up as much knowledge as possible. I am literally going to try and be a sponge. When I first arrived I studied hard in the classroom but it didn't have as much meaning to it. It absolutely has meaning now that I know that I successfully transferred what I learned in the classroom to real life. It’s just ‘WOW! I really did it!!’”
For Mr. Lee, the opportunities inherent in teaching high school students the skills necessary to man an aircraft outweigh the challenges. “Aviation brings together two very important variables: responsibility and freedom. It is really interesting - in order to get the freedom that you can get with aviation it requires a fairly high degree of responsibility. You really can’t afford to take shortcuts, to make mistakes. You’ve got to make sure you have everything covered. People think that is difficult with teenagers, and with some it may be, but with the students at Berkshire, I am finding it is really, really easy. I think they get that connection between the freedom and the responsibility. They know that in order to be able to fly a plane you have to take care of a lot of things. … Just learning all the materials required to pass the FAA class, I am finding that the students are jumping right in.” To his knowledge, Berkshire is the only independent school in the country to offer such a course.
Click here to listen to Mr. Lee talk elaborate about the opportunities and challenges of teaching aviation.
Peggy Loeffler, Chief Flight Instructor at the Great Barrington Airport, is accustomed to working with young adults. “Many high school and college-age students have come to me for flight training, and it's always an enjoyable experience for me. I find that they are very open and receptive to learning; they absorb and, more importantly, retain the information given to them. I only have to tell them once to do something, and the next time they make the correction, making it possible to move on to another aspect or detail. They come without most of the fears that we as adults have acquired over the years. They come without preconceived ideas of what their strengths and weaknesses may be, once again opening them up to learning something new and not being afraid that they may not 'be good at it.’
“If a young person is given the opportunity for flight training, I see tremendous growth, maturity and confidence come to them. They soon realize they are capable of doing something very few of their peers can do, and that is, come to the airport, get into a plane, and fly it almost anywhere they want! Handling an airplane in sometimes difficult conditions gives them great confidence that they can carry over to other aspects of their life. Flying gives everyone a feeling of freedom, and an appreciation of the world beyond their home and life. This is so beneficial to a young person, in my opinion.
“The students at Berkshire School I have found to be exceptionally bright, motivated and disciplined. These traits are so important to flight training because there is so much material to cover and a lot of hard work involved. To have a ground school instructor who can present the material in an interesting and fun format makes it more bearable, and I know they'll enjoy every day of their classroom studies with Michael Lee. I have only recently met this group of young people and I am already impressed with all of them. I know they appreciate this opportunity and will enjoy every minute of the whole experience!”