Each year, Berkshire students take off in Michael Lee’s Aviation Science class. In the one semester class, the students have multiple opportunities to fly real planes out of the local Great Barrington Airport and practice on an FAA-approved flight simulator conveniently located right in their classroom.
Berkshire’s connection to the Great Barrington Airport, which spans back decades, when students in the 1940s used the airport to train to join the Air Force in World War II. Lee says that history led to the creation of the current program in 2009. “[The School] was interested in getting aviation back in the curriculum at Berkshire, and asked if I could help. To me, it was a dream come true,” said Lee. “I loved aviation, and I’ve always loved teaching and designing programs.”
Ever since, Lee estimates 20 to 30 Bears have gone from taking his class to receiving their pilot’s license. That includes Billy Sullivan '11, who won the National Collegiate Aerobatics championship with the University of North Dakota and now flies as captain for a Boeing 777 for Prime Air with Amazon. Kira Von Steinbergs ’13 also got her pilot’s license and currently flies helicopters in the Navy.
Some students in this year’s class came in with experience in the sky. Melissa Schuermann ’24 has spent some time up in the air in her hometown of Cooperstown, NY. “In the summer of 2023, I had the opportunity to take a couple of flying lessons in Cooperstown, even doing a flight down the Hudson River and around the Statue of Liberty. I felt pure joy, like the ‘physically-could-not-stop-myself-from-smiling’ kind of joy. From that day, I knew flying was something I was meant to do.” Now, Schuermann is taking advantage of the technology under the Mountain to continue her preparation for her private pilot’s license.
There are also lessons to learn from the class that students apply while still on the ground. Kyron Stevenson ’24 says, “I’ve definitely learned how to stay level-headed because it’s not ideal to get 4,000 feet in the air and start panicking.” Easier said than done for the senior who had never been behind the controls of a plane before taking the class. “I didn’t believe I was about to fly an airplane until the instructor said, ‘Here you go–you have the controls,’ and I was flying the airplane! And then we flew over Berkshire, and I thought, ‘wait, this is really cool.’”
In the decade-plus of the Aviation Science class at Berkshire, one major addition has been key. Lee says that the in-class flight simulator has revolutionized the way he teaches the class. “[The students] are able to prepare for each flight in the real airplane by going through the maneuvers first in the simulator. We are lucky to have such a good simulator, which is an FAA-approved training device. In other words, some of the hours students spend in the simulator actually count towards their required hours for their license.”
You can learn more about Aviation Science here.